| 10/25/2006 4:44 PM
| Occasionally, there are significant articles that by their very nature are lengthy expositions of fact, comment and analysis; or even transcripts of an interview or a panel discussion. In order not to encumber our news pages with such articles, they will be held in this section to be read at your leisure.
The first of these comes appropriately from FIRST THINGS, in whose November Issue, Fr. Richard Neuhaus writes of "The Regensburg Moment" - on the implications of Pope Benedict XVI's Sept. 12, 2006 lecture at the University of Regensburg - the lecture as a whole, that is, not limited to the tangential issue of the Mohammed citation.
THE REGENSBURG MOMENT & OTHER REFLECTIONS - Part I
The direct commentary on Regensburg is followed by an overview of a wide range of recent publications in English that look at the malaise of the West, specifically, the United States, from a number of political, sociological and even literary viewpoints.
The Regensburg Moment
By Richard John Neuhaus
It is by no means certain, but it is more than just possible, that Pope Benedict’s September 12 lecture at the University of Regensburg and the controversy surrounding it will be referred to, five or twenty years from now, as “The Regensburg Moment.”
As many commentators, Muslim and other, do not know because they manifestly did not read the lecture, it was not chiefly about Islam. It was a considered reflection on the inseparable linkage of faith and reason in the Christian understanding, an incisive critique of Christian thinkers who press for separating faith and reason in the name of “de-Hellenizing” Christianity, and a stirring call for Christians to celebrate the achievements of modernity and secure those achievements by grounding them in a more comprehensive and coherent understanding of human rationality.
Benedict was widely criticized for being impolitic, even recklessly provocative, in citing a fourteenth-century colloquy between a Byzantine emperor and a Muslim intellectual in which the emperor drew some distinctly uncomplimentary conclusions about Islam.
Perhaps the pope should have chosen a less “brusque” (his characterization of the emperor’s statement) example from history, but his obvious point was to show that the problem he was addressing is not new. Violence has no place in the advancing of religion. To act against reason is to act against the nature of God. That is Benedict’s argument.
Numerous commentators suggested a sharp contrast between Benedict and John Paul II in their attitude toward Islam. Somewhat amusingly, pundits who had for years deplored John Paul’s “rigid” and “authoritarian” pontificate now spoke nostalgically about his wonderfully open and dialogical ways. As usual, any stick will do in beating up on whoever is currently the pope. As a matter of fact, however, there is no substantive difference between the two popes and their understanding of Islam.
In his 1994 worldwide bestseller, Crossing the Threshold of Hope
, John Paul expressed respect for “the religiosity of the Muslims” and their “fidelity to prayer.” “The image of believers in Allah who, without caring about time or place, fall to their knees and immerse themselves in prayer remains a model for all those who invoke the true God, in particular for those Christians who, having deserted their magnificent cathedrals, pray only a little or not at all.” That having been said, John Paul continues:
"Whoever knows the Old and New Testaments, and then reads the Koran, clearly sees the process by which it completely reduces Divine Revelation. It is impossible not to note the movement away from what God said about himself, first in the Old Testament through the Prophets, and then finally in the New Testament through His Son. In Islam, all the richness of God’s self-revelation, which constitutes the heritage of the Old and New Testaments, has definitely been set aside.
"Some of the most beautiful names in the human language are given to the God of the Koran, but He is ultimately a God outside of the world, a God who is only Majesty, never Emmanuel, God with us. Islam is not a religion of redemption. There is no room for the Cross and the Resurrection. Jesus is mentioned, but only as a prophet who prepares for the last prophet, Muhammad. There is also mention of Mary, His Virgin Mother, but the tragedy of redemption is completely absent. For this reason not only the theology but also the anthropology of Islam is very distant from Christianity."
So the hard questions about Islam raised by Benedict at Regensburg (and elsewhere) are hardly new in papal thought. Benedict has expressed regret about the violent Muslim reaction to what he said; he has continued to meet with Muslim leaders; he has reaffirmed the Church’s continuing dialogue with Islam—but there is no chance whatsoever that he will retract or retreat from the argument he has made.
And there is no doubt that he will continue to insist on greater “reciprocity” in relation to Islam. The Muslims’ religious freedom in the West should be joined to religious freedom for Christians and others in Islamic countries. Benedict very thoroughly aired this question with the Curia in Rome and with the cardinals during the past year, and there is solid agreement that reciprocity must be a central theme in Catholic-Muslim relations in the future.
But as I said, Regensburg was addressed chiefly to intellectuals in the West, and especially to theologians and philosophers: to theologians who try to pit authentically biblical Christianity against the Greek intellectual inheritance, thus abandoning the great achievement of the Church’s synthesis of faith and reason; and to philosophers, Christian and non-Christian, who have accepted a modern understanding of reason that reduces it to what counts as “science,” with the same result of sundering faith and reason.
A Kantian divorce of reason from religion and morality leaves the intellectual defenders of the West incapable of explaining why, for instance, one should rationally prefer a religion of reasonable persuasion to a religion of violence. There are utilitarian reasons, of course.
But who is to say which religion is the more true? If all religion and morality is in the realm of the nonrational or even the irrational and is purely subjective, truth has nothing to do with it.
Benedict contrasts this with the great tradition of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. They were intensely concerned with the reasonable exploration of the great questions that Enlightenment rationality dismisses as religious and no part of reasonable discourse.
At Regensburg and elsewhere, Benedict has carefully made the case that modern rationality is itself dependent upon, and inexplicable apart from, the understanding of reason and the rationality of the world produced by Christianity’s appropriation and development of the Hellenic philosophical tradition.
This truth is well understood by Lee Harris, author of Civilization and Its Enemies
and The Suicide of Reason
. Harris is no particular friend of Christianity, but he understands the boldness and crucial importance of the challenge Benedict is raising to intellectuals of the West. Writing in the Weekly Standard
, he says:
"In his moving and heroic speech, Joseph Ratzinger has chosen to play the part of Socrates, not giving us dogmatic answers, but stinging us with provocative questions. Shall we abandon the lofty and noble conception of reason for which Socrates gave his life? Shall we delude ourselves into thinking that the life of reason can survive without courage and character? Shall we be content with lives we refuse to examine, because such examination requires us to ask questions for which science can give no definite answer? The destiny of reason will be determined by how we in the modern West answer these questions."
Benedict knows that Christian history has had its own experience with the sundering of faith and reason. At Regensburg, he cited the influence of John Duns Scotus (1266–1308) and some of the Protestant Reformers who proposed a Christianity liberated from the philosophical thought that they viewed as alien to Christian faith. In the case of Scotus and others, this leads, he said, “to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. God’s transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind his actual decisions.”
This is the intellectual history that leads to modernity’s view of a clash between faith and reason. Reason is the light of the known and faith is a “blind leap” into the unknown.
Very different is the understanding set forth by John Paul II in the encyclical Fides et Ratio
: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth — in a word, to know himself — so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”
At Regensburg, Benedict underscored that a view of the nature of God as capricious and voluntaristic is fundamentally incompatible with the teaching of the Church:
“The faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason, there exists a real analogy, in which —a s the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 stated — unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language. God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf.”
God and man are not in competition, or should not be. God is divine reason and love, and man is a creature, but also a participant in the mind of God and in the intelligent response of love.
In the world of the news cycles that consume and spit out “what is happening now” with expert rapidity, Regensburg is a long time ago. But for those who attend to the rational and moral defense of the West, not least in relation to Islam, what was said in that lecture hall and the responses to it will be pondered and debated long into the future
At the height of the violent reactions by Muslims, the dominant note in the Western media — led, predictably, by the New York Times
— was that Benedict had been careless or unnecessarily provocative and should, figuratively speaking, crawl on his knees to Mecca to ask forgiveness. Figuratively speaking, of course, because they don’t allow infidels at Mecca.
In the Vatican and in the Catholic journalistic world, there were voices that joined in the tut-tutting of an uncouth and unlearned pope who had disrupted the dialogue with a “religion of peace.” The nitpicking pedantry of some Catholic experts on Islam was given prominent display in the world’s press.
But, from Catholic and other Christian leaders, along with Jews and some secular intellectuals, there was also an outpouring of support for what the pope had the wisdom and courage to say. They recognized that momentous issues of long-term consequence had at last been joined in a way that made possible and imperative continuing debate
Regrettably, the official response of the Catholic bishops conference in this country, issued by Bishop William Skylstad, the conference president, was not helpful. The tone was condescending and patronizing, almost apologizing for the pope’s inept disturbance of our wonderfully dialogical relationship with our Muslim brothers and sisters
. We are assured that, despite his unfortunate statements, he really does want peaceful dialogue.
I paraphrase, of course, but the statement was anything but a firm defense of the pope, never mind an effort to explain what he actually said. It might have been written by a public relations firm engaged in damage control, and possibly was.
But for many others, the words spoken on September 12, 2006, and the responses, both violent and reasonable, to those words may, five or twenty years from now, be referred to as “The Regensburg Moment,” meaning a moment of truth
. As I say, it is by no means certain, but it is more than just possible.
The Empire of Blasted Dreams
Every once in a while, we receive an exceedingly rude reminder why economics is called the dismal science. One reason being, of course, that it fancies itself a science. Raising embarrassing questions at a party celebrating the widely professed concern for the poor of the world is economist William Easterly in The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good
Four hundred pages of statistics, charts, graphs, and depressing history, all sprinkled with mostly grim anecdotes, elaborate on the subtitle.
There is no doubt that Easterly cares about the poor, who are mainly in the global South. He has spent decades of his life working with the major development organizations and is now professor of economics at New York University and a senior fellow of the Center for Global Development.
He previously wrote The Elusive Quest for Growth
, which has become a standard reference in development circles. He cares, but he is convinced that most of the money spent on foreign aid (in the trillions in the past half century) has done very little good and a great deal of damage. He is utterly scornful of the utopian proposals to end world poverty that issue with wearied regularity from politicians, rock stars, and international bureaucracies.
Whether the source be Tony Blair, or Bono, or the World Bank, the massive failures of the past are regularly dusted off and, without even changing the language, presented as new, visionary, and requiring only tens of billions in additional funding to end poverty at last. Easterly’s tone is more regretful and even whimsical than angry, although the anger breaks through from time to time.
The White Man’s Burden, in which the West is going to solve the problems of 'the Rest,' has produced a huge world of interlocking and frequently self-serving bureaucracies that have only a tenuous relationship to helping poor people.
There is the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the Millennium Development Goals, the United Nations Development Program, the African Development Bank, the United Nations Conference and Trade and Development, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund, and, of course, the World Trade Organization. Then follow a host of subsidiary bureaucracies, including those of individual rich countries and the EU.
Easterly tells a grim story of the selling of delusions, of catastrophes, cover-ups, and corruption resulting in the bolstering of despotic regimes. The fair-minded reader who is concerned about the poor may well conclude that foreign aid, with all its pomps, pretensions, and ensconced apparatchiks, is a cruel shell game played at the expense of the poor and should be terminated.
That is apparently not Mr. Easterly’s intention, however. He is still very much in the development business. He offers proposals for reform. He writes at length on how current approaches favor “Planners” over “Searchers.” Planners sit at desks and conference with one another endlessly in Washington and Brussels, working up grand schemes to be announced with much fanfare at international meetings of the rich before imposing the same old thing they’ve been imposing for decades on poor countries, whether the schemes help the poor or not.
Searchers, by way of contrast, are attentive to what is happening on the ground, encouraging of local initiatives, and determined to hold programs accountable to the bottom line of whether the poor become less poor. Who could possibly disagree with the call for such accountability?
The problem is that, by Easterly’s own account, the usual grand designs cooked up by bureaucrats routinely rail against bureaucracy and demand level upon level of accountability. Every grand new global initiative that has been launched in the past decades has been described as a radical break from business as usual as it demands more billions for the funding of business as usual.
Easterly concludes with this: “Even if you don’t work in the field of helping the poor, you can still, as a citizen, let your voice be heard for the cause of aid delivering the goods to the poor. You citizens don’t have to settle for the grandiose but empty plans to make poverty history. All of you can make known your dissatisfaction with Planners and call for more Searchers.”
Great. Write your representative or senator saying that you want those billions of dollars to really help poor people. That will shake them up at the World Bank and send tremors through the structure of sinecured paper pushers at the UN Development Fund.
I don’t doubt that Easterly is mostly right about the development establishments being as ineffective, and frequently counterproductive, as he claims they are. He knows the numbers and documents the glaring gap between expenditure and results. The picture he offers is devastating.
One is struck, however, by the conceptual poverty of his critique
. He has a commonsensical appreciation of the need for market dynamics, and the distinction between Planners and Searchers is no doubt right. One may hope that — against the entrenched habits and ethos of the development establishment —more Planners will listen to, or even become, Searchers. But Easterly’s analysis is severely limited to the economic ideas and vocabulary of the development world of which he has so long been part
In a word, Easterly’s understanding of poverty and what can be done about it is strikingly statist. Despite all the talk about being attentive to what is happening to people on the ground, the story he tells is overwhelmingly the story of governments and government policies
; of rich governments bearing the White Man’s Burden and poor governments suffering from, or colluding in, the moral imperialism of the delusions of the rich.
There is barely a passing mention of thousands of nongovernmental programs, mainly church-related, that are demonstrably effective in countering disease, feeding the hungry, and advancing development by building communities of mutual aid. Culture and religion hardly get a cameo appearance in his account
Conceptually, the distinction between Planners and Searchers is obvious enough, but there is nothing of the nuance and detail in describing the dynamics of freedom and development explored in, for instance, John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical, Centesimus Annus
, on “expanding the circle of productivity and exchange.” It appears that Mr. Easterly has read and thought very little outside the box of the statist development establishment he so sharply criticizes.
For the sake of the poor of the world, and of our own humanity, we cannot resign ourselves to a third of the world’s population living in abject poverty. We know that most of the big statist solutions are, although often well-intended, a destructive delusion.
Aspects of that story, with specific reference to humanitarian interventions in regional conflicts, are very compellingly told by David Rieff in his 2002 book, A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis
. We may be on the edge of a widespread turn against programmatic efforts to help the poor—not because people don’t care, but because they become convinced that caring doesn’t make much difference, and often seems to make matters worse.
The White Man’s Burden
provides much useful information about failures relative to economic development. If Mr. Easterly had let his imagination range beyond governments and government policies, he might have left his readers with a hope and sense of responsibility that goes beyond writing a letter to Congress demanding that, in exchange for the next ten billion dollars, programs of massive ineffectiveness be made effective.
White Guilt, Black Rage
In The Content of Our Character
, Shelby Steele of Stanford University took on the stereotypes that continue to bedevil race relations in America. The book deservedly received a great deal of attention, much of it very critical. Now Steele is back again with White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Movement
(HarperCollins). You are right if you think he is being more than a bit provocative.
The book opens with the observation that President Eisenhower was rumored to have used the N-word from time to time. Steele compares that with President Clinton’s marital infidelities.
President Clinton survived what would certainly have destroyed President Eisenhower, and Eisenhower could easily have survived what would almost certainly have destroyed Clinton. Each man, finally, was no more than indiscreet within the moral landscape of his era.
Neither racism in the fifties nor womanizing in the nineties was a profound enough sin to undermine completely the moral authority of the president. So it was the good luck of each president to sin into the moral relativism of his era rather than into its puritanism. And, interestingly, the moral relativism of one era was the puritanism of the other.
Race simply replaced sex as the primary focus of America’s moral seriousness.
Steele describes colorfully (if one may be permitted the term) his own epiphany in discovering his black manhood and power in exploiting white guilt. He recognized that the simple recognition by whites of their race’s association with racism created a vacuum of moral authority that opened opportunities for black rage.
“Whites (and American institutions) must acknowledge historical racism to show themselves redeemed of it, but once they acknowledge it, they lose moral authority over everything having to do with race, equality, social justice, poverty, and so on. They step into a void of vulnerability. The authority they lose transfers to the ‘victims’ of historical racism and becomes their great power in society. This is why white guilt is quite literally the same thing as black power.”
Personal morality has given way to social rectitude. The use of the N-word is a fatal indication that one does not have the requisite social attitude. Womanizing in the White House is not socially approved, but it is, after all, only a personal peccadillo.
This, says Steele, is the “global racism” that has radically skewed our moral sensibilities and judgments. Racism is worse than murder. In the O.J. Simpson trial, he notes, the question of whether Detective Mark Fuhrman had ever used the N-word trumped the DNA evidence linking Simpson to the murderers.
“And the court itself—like most American institutions in this age of white guilt — was so bereft of moral authority in racial matters that it could not restore proportionality to the proceedings. . . . Racism was allowed to become a kind of contaminating ether that wafted through and dispelled even the hardest evidence.”
Every institution is in flight from being stigmatized as racist. Steele notes that Texaco paid out $750 million to the “corrupt diversity industry,” even though a “racist” executive did nothing more than to repeat a nonracist term that he picked up, ironically enough, in a company-sponsored program on diversity training. Toyota has paid more than $7 billion, and other companies have paid hundreds of millions, to avoid being stigmatized as racist.
Steele does not mention that Jesse Jackson each year holds a shakedown festival on Wall Street at which he extorts huge amounts of money in return for not publicly labeling corporations as racist.
“The race card works,” writes Steele, “by the mechanism of global racism: even a hint of racism proves the rule of systemic racism. So these corporations never pay to the measure of any actual racism; they pay to the measure of racism’s hyped-up and bloated reputation in the age of white guilt.”
Steele is particularly exercised by the Supreme Court decision in which Sandra Day O’Connor wrote that the victims of white racism would require another twenty-five years of affirmative action in order to compete on an equal basis.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a withering dissent in which he protested that he and others were not to be condescendingly treated as black victims but as individuals possessed of the dignity of being responsible for their successes and failures. Thomas’ dissent outraged Maureen Dowd of the New York Times
, who made much of the claim that Thomas himself had benefited by affirmative action. Here is Steele at his most caustic:
"Maureen Dowd, thinking herself quite incapable of racism, effectively calls Justice Thomas a nigger who — given his fundamental inferiority — should show “gratitude” to his white betters. In her rage, this ever so hip baby boomer liberal invokes white supremacy itself to annihilate Thomas — in reaction to her sense of being annihilated by him. So mired in white blindness, so lost in the liberal orthodoxy that counts mere dissociation from racism as virtue, and so addicted to the easy moral esteem that comes to her from dissociation, Dowd plays the oldest race cards of all — I’m white and you’re black, so shut up and be grateful for my magnanimity. It is as though in fighting for her human visibility she is really fighting for her superiority — a superiority that Thomas annihilated and that she now wants back."
Central to Shelby Steele’s argument is that the age of racism is past
. The civil rights movement under the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. was a great success. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 signaled triumph over a great national evil.
Instead of celebrating the achievement, however, the age of racism was almost immediately replaced by the age of white guilt. The identities shaped around black victimhood, black rage, and black power are inexplicable apart from the regime of white guilt. The proponents of affirmative action and other policies supporting the guilt regime care little about real black people, especially those in the black urban underclass.
Like Maureen Dowd and Sandra Day O’Connor and Texaco, their interest is in maintaining their position of superiority, including presumed moral superiority, by paying their tithe to be certified as innocent of the guilt borne by an allegedly racist society.
This is heady stuff. There is much to argue with in Steele’s thesis. My copy of the book is littered with question marks in the margins. But Steele makes a convincing case that our society is much more marked by white guilt than by white racism, and that the institutionalizing of white guilt is in the service, however inadvertently, of supporting whatever remains of white racism
To those who are open to exploring a radically different way of understanding racism in America, I recommend White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Movement
The Nazi doctrine of Lebensunwertes Leben
(life that is not worthy of life) had the widest possible applications, from euthanasia to the elimination of the handicapped to the mass killings at Auschwitz.
While the Third Reich opposed the abortion of the “genetically superior,” Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood that the logic of abortion was integral to a regime that presumed to exercise total power over life and death.
Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the regime in April of 1945, spoke of four divine “mandates” in the ordering of human life: family, labor, government, and Church. The following passage from his Ethics
occurs in a discussion of the family:
"Marriage involves acknowledgment of the right of life that is to come into being, a right which is not subject to the disposal of the married couple. Unless this right is acknowledged as a matter of principle, marriage ceases to be marriage and becomes a mere liaison. Acknowledgment of this right means making way for the free creative power of God which can cause new life to proceed from this marriage according to His will.
"Destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder.
"A great many different motives may lead to an action of this kind; indeed in cases where it is an act of despair, performed in circumstances of extreme human or economic destitution and misery, the guilt may often lie rather with the community than with the individual. Precisely in this connection money may conceal many a wanton deed, while the poor man’s more reluctant lapse may far more easily be disclosed. All these considerations must no doubt have a quite decisive influence on our personal and pastoral attitude towards the person concerned, but they cannot in any way alter the fact of murder."
While We’re At It:
• So what is the name of the enemy? A lot of candidates have been proposed and employed in the last five years: Islamic fundamentalism, Islamofascism, Islamic totalitarianism, Islamism, terrorism, or simply extremism. Islamism, as distinguished from Islam, is used by many scholars, but it is a subtlety that will elude most people.
Fundamentalism is an American Christian phenomenon with a very specific history that has nothing to do with Islam. Terrorism is a means employed by the enemy, but it does not name the enemy. And extremism is a generalized pejorative naming nothing in particular.
References to fascism and totalitarianism have a fine hawkish ring, and there are indeed some parallels between what we faced in Nazism and communism and what confronts us now, but the dissimilarities are much greater, beginning with the role of religion in the new challenge.
So what is the name of the enemy? I suggest that the most accurate term is Jihadism. The definition is not difficult to understand: Jihadism is the religiously inspired ideology that it is the moral obligation of all Muslims to employ whatever means necessary in order to compel the world’s submission to Islam.
Those who support that ideology are Jihadists, and that is exactly what they say they believe. They describe themselves as Jihadists, and there is no reason why we should impose upon them a name — fascist, fundamentalist, etc. — from our Western and distinctly non-Islamic history.
It will be objected that in the Qur’an, jihad can also mean peaceful spiritual struggle. That is true, as it is true that those Muslims who believe jihad means peaceful spiritual struggle are not the enemy. “Jihadism.” Say it five times and it comes easily. It has the additional merit of being accurate. It is good to see that this terminology is gaining some traction in our public discussions.
• Remember The Da Vinci Code
? The gospel according to Judas? They and whatever comes next are part of a very old story, Philip Jenkins writes in the thirtieth anniversary issue of that fine journal the Chesterton Review
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there was enormous popular enthusiasm over the “discovery” of new gospels by, inter alia, Thomas, Peter, Mary, and even by Judas Iscariot and Eve.
Madame Blavatsky and her Theosophical Society were prominent in debunking the orthodox Christian story that had been imposed by wicked churchmen, and most especially by the Catholic Church.
There were also very popular novels along the line of The Da Vinci Code
. In a way similar to the appeal of Elaine Pagels’ promotion of Gnosticism today, feminist themes were prominent. Elizabeth Cady Stanton published Woman’s Bible
in 1895, and Matilda Gage’s Women, Church and State
(1895) launched the mythology of European witches who were the remnant of an ancient matriarchal society that was centered in a fertility cult that had been persecuted into extinction by the patriarchal Church.
Jenkins writes: “The new discoveries are never as new or as sensational as they are touted to be. Looking at the writings of the early twentieth century — as of the early 21st — our overwhelming impression is that people earnestly wanted to find some particular message in early Christianity, and wished heartily that this claim could be justified by some authentic scripture. And in the absence of such a genuine text, spurious or flimsy texts were vastly exaggerated — in effect, reinvented to become the weighty scriptures that people hoped to find. To adopt Dr. Johnson’s words, the constant emphasis on the unique wisdom and value of the new-old scriptures, all scholarship to the contrary, must be seen as ‘the triumph of hope over experience.’”
Jenkins observes, “The cyclical nature of claims and ‘discoveries’ suggests that such amazing ‘new gospels’ are rather like London buses: There is no need to worry if you miss one because another will be along within ten minutes
Well yes, but why now? Perhaps there is more than we might think to the claims of some scholars that the turn of a century, and especially of a millennium, generates widespread apocalyptic fantasy. I don’t know. But there is, as Jenkins suggests, something touching in the desire to certify fantasy by reference to Jesus and early Christianity. It is as though, in their determined rejection of historic Christianity, people can’t let go of it. In that, and despite the fabrications and sensationalism, there may be reason for hope.
• Increasingly encountered in the product of the commentariat is the observation that left and right are engaged in a battle over who has rightful claim to the religious and philosophical legacy of the American Founders. We should not let partisan intellectual contests distract us from more important historical inquiries.
In his book On Two Wings
, Michael Novak very helpfully sets out the structure of Christian thought — a structure, he insists, inseparably connected to Jewish and Old Testament understandings of human nature and history — that provided the conceptual matrix for the understandings and aspirations shaping our constitutional order.
In a later book, Washington’s God
, he and Jana Novak insightfully explore the ways in which the faith and worldview of the first president are situated, sometimes uneasily, within that structure of Christian thought.
Gordon Wood of Brown University, the distinguished historian of the American founding, has said of this project: “I agree with Michael that it’s been the last 100 years, in fact the last half of the 20th century, that our society has become much more secular and as a consequence we’ve tended to interpret the 18th century in a more secular way. But I think that’s just a mistake. That was a very religious world. In fact, ordinary people were far more religious than the leaders. Washington is, among the founders, I think, probably as religious as any of them.”
The point of books such as On Two Wings
and Washington’s God
is not to pass judgment on whether the Founders were “true Christians,” as true Christianity is variously defined. That judgment has long since been passed by Higher Authority.
The point is to understand the national experience of which we are part. The further point is to illumine the ways in which the beliefs of those who crafted this constitutional order are inexplicable without careful attention to the Christian tradition of which they, however variously, were part
• Repeatedly and ever more plaintively, the question is asked, “Where is the religious left?” Ever eager to serve, Jim Wallis of Sojourners responds, “Here am I, send me to repel the threatening armies of the theocrats!”
Wallis steadfastly deplores the ways in which the religious right equates its politics with the will of God. To counter such religious arrogance, he wrote a popular book explaining his own politics. He called the book God’s Politics
. It comes complete with the U.S. federal budget that the prophet Isaiah would have written if he had known more about modern economics.
Jim Wallis is not alone in trying to revive, or invent, a religious left. The Network of Spiritual Progressives is a project led by Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun
refers to the mending of the world, which all can agree is a good thing to try to do. Recently, he and Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun, convened a gathering of the Network in Washington, D.C.
Neela Banerjee, writing in the New York Times
, reports: “They had come to All Souls Unitarian Church, 1,200 of them from 39 states, to wrest the mantle of moral authority from conservative Christians, and they were finally planning how to take their message to those in power.”
Tony Campolo, the liberal Baptist, told the gathering that they should invoke biblical authority. “People in Congress respect the Book, even if they don’t know what it says. If we don’t recognize this, we don’t know squat.”
A hirsute young man objected: “I thought this was a spiritual progressives’ conference. I don’t want to play the game of ‘the Bible says this or that,’ or that we get validation from something other than ourselves. We should be speaking from our hearts.” He possibly reads Tikkun
When the conferees deployed their forces on Capitol Hill, Carol Gottesman, a 64-year-old nurse from Hubbard, Ohio, engaged her Democrat congressman, Tim Ryan, who said he had heard of the progressive network.
Mr. Ryan asked if the group was pressing specific policies. “No,” said Ms. Gottesman, “it’s more that we want to take caring and generosity and bring it into everything.”
Mr. Ryan responded, “Spread love, not hate. Pretty simple. Do you have a little network back home?” Banerjee writes, “Ms. Gottesman squared her shoulders proudly and said, ‘I’m it.’” Validation from ourselves indeed.
In truth, the 1,200 souls at All Souls Unitarian Church were validating one another in their communal affirmation of their very singular selves. There is a religious left. It is defined by a shared reaction to the religious right
. It is not about to change its name to the Network of Spiritual Reactionaries, however.
These people understand themselves to be progressive, open-minded, inquiring, and fiercely opposed to the moral arrogance of conservatives who claim that their policy preferences are, as Jim Wallis might put it, “God’s politics.”
• In Lariano, Italy, there was this meeting sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the World Council of Churches. The subject was “Conversion — Assessing the Reality.”
The report from the meeting underscores a number of important truths. Particularly welcome is the ringing affirmation of the right to religious freedom: “Freedom of religion is a fundamental, inviolable and non-negotiable right of every human being in every country in the world. Freedom of religion connotes the freedom, without any obstruction, to practice one’s own faith, freedom to propagate the teachings of one’s faith to people of one’s own and other faiths, and also the freedom to embrace another faith out of one’s own free choice.”
This reflects the Vatican’s increasing insistence upon “reciprocity” in relation to Islam. While mosques multiply across the landscape of Europe, Christian Bibles and crosses are confiscated at the borders of many Muslim countries where worship and witness by the “infidels” is prohibited.
But then the report from the consultation starts to go wobbly:
"We affirm that while everyone has a right to invite others to an understanding of their faith, it should not be exercised by violating other’s [sic] rights and religious sensibilities. At the same time, all should heal themselves from the obsession of converting others.
"Freedom of religion enjoins upon all of us the equally non-negotiable responsibility to respect faiths other than our own, and never to denigrate, vilify or misrepresent them for the purpose of affirming superiority of our faith."
• What does it mean to violate the “religious sensibilities” of others? Danish cartoons of Muhammad result in riots and the death of dozens of people because, Muslims explain, their religious sensibilities are violated.
Churches are torched, the pope is burned in effigy, and Christians are attacked and killed because Regensburg offended Muslim sensibilities.
Of course, we must never misrepresent the religion of others, and in proposing the truth we should accent the positive, but the statement of what is true can tend to denigrate (Webster: “to deny the validity of”) and may even vilify (“to lower in estimation or importance”) the denial of what is true.
Admittedly, it’s hard to find the right words for saying that we should try to be nice to people, but the report from Lariano is particularly inept in its attempt.
More substantive and more troubling, however, is the statement that “all should heal themselves from the obsession of converting others.” An earnest desire to share the truth with others is a sickness? “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” declared St. Paul
. Was he obsessed and in need of therapy?
We all know the old saw about horses created by committees, but, even for a camel, the Lariano camel is embarrassingly odd.
• Every issue of the magazine elicits a raft of letters, relatively few of which can be published in the correspondence section. Others are sent to authors for their personal response, and I try to respond to everyone addressing what I have written. Sometimes a public clarification is in order.
I am alerted to a possible misunderstanding of this passage in the June/July issue: “Once again, America is, as it always has been, an incorrigibly, confusedly, and conflictedly Christian society. There are relatively small minorities of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists. Of these, only Jews play a large role in our public discourse, although that could change in the future.”
I am told that this sounds “ominous,” as though I am suggesting that Jews should not play such a large role. Of course, that is not what was intended. Jews are a declining proportion of the population, while the other minorities are increasing. It therefore seems more than possible that, in the decades ahead, those other voices, too, will have a large role in our public discourse. There is nothing necessarily ominous about that at all.
• “Interestingly, many who urge more acceptance of religion in the public square want skeptics to keep quiet, and in fact if you actually go after someone’s religious ideas you are quickly accused of anti-religious bias. I find this stance highly problematic.
"If the faithful are willing to say that we should shut up about their ideas because, after all, they are private, then the faithful should not proclaim the relevance of those ideas to public affairs.” That’s historian David Hollinger of the University of California, Berkeley, in a symposium on secularism published by Religion in the News
He’s on to something. But then he goes wrong in thinking that it is only liberal secularists and liberal Christians who have an interest in making religious belief a matter of civil public discussion.
In a 2004 article in Harper’s
, Hollinger wrote: “Religious ideas have become oddly privileged. Since most secularists consider religion a strictly private matter, they generally deem it impolite to express about a believer’s religious ideas the kind of skepticism they might reveal in response to someone’s notions about the economy or race or gender.
"Of course, there is no excuse for rudeness, yet the more impact on public affairs religious ideas are understood to have, the more troublesome this deference becomes. In an earlier era, freethinkers understood that the society in which they lived depended in part on the basic view of the world accepted by their fellow citizens — hence Robert Ingersoll and Elizabeth Cady Stanton not only defended a clear church-state separation but commented on the merits of specific religious ideas held by their contemporaries.
"For the last sixty or seventy years, however, secularists have more often supposed that the ideas of religious believers did not matter; that the ideas could be scorned when out of the earshot of the faithful or, in mixed company, could be patronizingly indulged the way one might listen to the words of a child or aged relative before tactfully changing the subject.”
Right again. He describes the presumption of atheism, or at least methodological atheism, in academic philosophy, and writes: “My point is not that philosophers should be more religious than they are — I want only to note that the discipline that once contributed precious analytic rigor to the evaluation of religious ideas rarely treats religion as a respectable rival to secular worldviews.
"In part, the shift reflects a striking and laudable change in the demographics of American academia after 1945. The integration of Jews into social science and humanities faculties ended the Protestant cultural hegemony of the leading colleges and created an atmosphere in which Christian ideas were no longer privileged; the liberation was a major enrichment of American intellectual life, and the philosophers, historians, literary scholars, and social scientists who participated in it were understandably reticent to turn their analytic powers towards Christian ideas in a society that had, until recently, excluded Jews as agents of ‘de-Christianization.’”
Hollinger singles out liberal secularists and liberal Catholics as the people who can bring about a new engagement of philosophy with religion. He has no more solid ally, however, than Pope Benedict XVI
The much-discussed September lecture in Regensburg was precisely an appeal to Western secularists to recognize that philosophy is crippled by its exclusion of the questions addressed by religion, and an appeal to Christians not to repudiate the Christian-Hellenic synthesis with its accent upon the mutual dependence of faith and reason.
Hollinger thinks our intellectual culture would be healthier if we had today people such as Robert Ingersoll, a brilliant atheist who in the early twentieth century toured the country lambasting religion. (There is a plaque in honor of Ingersoll in Gramercy Park, around the corner from our office.)
One hopes, however, that secularists could come up with people more sophisticated than Ingersoll, and more interested in truth than in scoring points, but Hollinger is right about the need to move beyond the “privileging” of religion as a purely personal concern grounded in private experience and therefore immune from criticism.
Christianity makes public truth claims about reality, and such claims are subject to reasonable challenge, as they are also reasonably proposed. Whether Mr. Hollinger knows it or not, he and the pope are on the same side in contending against both ideological secularism and religious fideism.
• Born in Iran and now grateful to be an American, Cyrus Nowrasteh wrote the miniseries aired by ABC, The Road to 9/11
. You will remember that prominent Democrats demanded that the program be canceled because it portrayed President Clinton and his administration in an uncomplimentary light. (It was none too kind to the Bush team either.)
But here is another dimension of the brouhaha. Nowrasteh writes: “The hysteria engendered by the series found more than one target. In addition to the death threats and hate mail directed at me, and my grotesque portrayal as a maddened right-winger, there developed an impassioned search for incriminating evidence on everyone else connected to the film.
"And in director David Cunningham, the searchers found paydirt! His father had founded a Christian youth outreach mission. The whiff of the younger Mr. Cunningham’s possible connection to this enterprise was enough to set the hounds of suspicion baying. A religious mission!
"A New York Times
reporter wrote, without irony or explanation, that an issue that raised questions about the director was his involvement in his father’s outreach work. In the era of McCarthyism, the merest hint of a connection to communism sufficed to inspire dark accusations, the certainty that the accused was part of a malign conspiracy. Today, apparently you can get something of that effect by charging a connection with a Christian mission
Another sobering thought for the day.
• Paul Marshall is an evangelical and a senior fellow at Freedom House who plays an important part in keeping all of us alert to the realities of the persecution of believers, Christian and other, around the world.
In “The Problem of the Prophets,” published in Christianity Today
, he reflects on evangelical political engagement. He says it is not true, as is sometimes claimed, that “evangelicals merely march to the drumbeat of Catholic thinkers.”
There is a very respectable stream of evangelical thought and history that informs, or should inform, Christian political action. But, he writes, “currently, evangelical activism hampers responsible political engagement by casually proof-texting the Bible and claiming the authority of Old Testament prophets.”
Moreover: “Evangelical activism has long shown bipolar characteristics. The Christian Coalition and the Moral Majority fit a historical pattern that begins with political passivity. Then, provoked by fear of secular intrusion, evangelicals launch a fervent crusade. Troops rally to a cause whose leaders employ military and salvation metaphors, calling for battles to ‘save’ America from apostasy. The crusade usually runs for several years, until the world’s apparent resistance to reform leads to disappointment, occasionally degenerating into cynicism. Sometimes, evangelical activists even proclaim America’s inevitable moral decline while calling for campaigns to arrest that decline."
Then there are those who rather presumptuously present themselves as prophets: “A more pervasive — and perhaps pernicious — pattern makes a prophet the key political actor. This view’s advocates implicitly claim the prophet’s mantle for themselves.
"In his widely noted God’s Politics
, Jim Wallis writes, ‘The place to begin to understand the politics of God is with the Prophets.’ Wallis does not bother to justify this unusual contention. The Bible itself does not begin with the Prophets, but with Genesis, as does most Christian reflection on politics throughout history.
"Nor does Wallis relate the Prophets to the Torah. They challenged rulers on the basis of God’s law, not on their own feelings of injustice. . . . These ‘prophets’ disregard the real, day-to-day problems faced by actual politicians. They present utopian societies to achieve, rather than guidance for governing the varied and brawling people politicians govern.
"It’s as if parents received advice on rearing their children by hearing someone describe an ideal child. They might respond, ‘I know what kids are supposed to be, but that tells me nothing. What I need is advice on what, today, I should do with the little monsters I have.’”
Marshall’s conclusion reflects what used to be called “Christian realism” until some theologians, disappointed by reality, debunked the term. Marshall writes: “This side of eternity there will be no ‘revolution’ that can change the human condition. The world will remain full of hope and sin, success and failure. We will win a few political debates and lose a few. Perhaps one day we’ll lose many, and faithful people will be dragged to their deaths, as they are now around the world.
"With time, evangelicals will grow wiser about the political arena just as parents do — through lived, practical experience. That experience will deliver a dose of reality about what politics can and cannot accomplish
. Political action will not deliver utopia, conquer sin, or change human nature. But it can make a difference between rampant crime and safe neighborhoods, between hungry families and economic security, between victory and defeat in war. And only those who have never been mugged, never been hungry, or never been at war will think these differences trivial
• A new Gallup Poll on attitudes toward ten different religious groups has Jews coming out on top (58 percent positive, 4 percent negative). Mormons are 28 and 29 percent, Muslims 26 and 30 percent, atheists 25 and 44 percent, and at the bottom, perhaps thanks to the efforts of Tom Cruise, Scientologists are 11 percent positive and 53 percent negative.
Jews beat out Catholics, Presbyterians, evangelicals, and other much larger groups (they are a little less than two percent of the population).
But Michael Medved suggests that Jewish enthusiasm should be tempered. First, people lie to polltakers. Who wants to admit that they’re anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic? Then, too, Jews are uncontroversial, except for being Jews. On the hot-button moral and social issues, Jews are, from Reform to Orthodox, all over the map.
Medved writes: “And that’s the bad news for Jews behind the superficially flattering numbers in the Gallup Poll: People across the country rate Judaism positively not because the messages of our faith come across with so much strength and influence in our society, but because those teachings seem so confused, uncertain, and obscure
. In this context, the nearly invisible negative reactions to Judaism (only 1 percent ‘very negative’ and 3 percent ‘somewhat negative’) provide evidence of our religion’s problems, not our vitality.
"Any faith community that’s speaking out on the issues of the day in a clear, firm voice, or displaying the sort of dynamism and ambition capable of drawing numerous new adherents, will end up offending some people and inspiring occasional negative responses.
"For many of us who have tried to revitalize the traditional faith components of American Jewish identity, it would be well worth it to accept a ‘very negative’ rating higher than a mere 1 percent in return for a religious message that was more compelling, competitive, and challenging — enough so to inspire both favorable and unfavorable reactions that counted as more informed and impassioned.”
One is reminded of the Jew who said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you.”
• Mark Judge, who has written a provocative book titled God and Man at Georgetown Prep: How I Became a Catholic Despite 20 Years of Catholic Schooling
, alerts me to his alma mater’s understanding of Jesuit education, posted on the school’s website:
“Georgetown Preparatory School is committed to the Jesuit vision of education, which grows from two deeply grounded theological roots.
"The first is the conviction that God is found in all things. As Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote: ‘The world is charged with the grandeur of God.’ Even the secular is sacred, from the Jesuit point of view. Clearly, then, the ardent pursuit of knowledge is not just an intellectual activity, but a supremely sacred process.
"From this conviction springs the second root of Jesuit education: that learning is a catalyst for conversion. By ‘conversion’ we do not mean joining a particular religion or advocating a certain creed. Conversion in the Jesuit context means a profound change in one’s point of view — coming to see something from a totally different perspective. This is a solidly Christian concept, but it is also a universal one. It was the Buddha who said, when asked if he believed in miracles, ‘A change of heart is a genuine miracle.’”
Nothing there about Jesus Christ or the doctrine of the Catholic Church, and I suppose a profound change in one’s point of view from Christianity to another religion counts as a conversion. Why are you not surprised
• Secretary of State of the Holy See does not mean what is often thought. He is indeed in charge of foreign policy, too, but he is the chief administrative officer, under the pope, of the entire Vatican. Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone is the new secretary of state recently appointed by Pope Benedict.
He reflects on economic justice and international development in an interview with an Italian newspaper. The experts in institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, he says, are frequently guilty of imposing statist solutions on poor countries that undermine both economic development and cultural freedom.
The alternative? “Based on the social doctrine of the Church, we need a popular democratic capitalism, as well as a system of economic liberty which does not amount to an oligopoly, which makes room for the greatest number of participants possible, giving them a chance to engage in enterprise and creativity, favoring a healthy competition within a clear legal framework
That’s a splendidly succinct summary of key points in John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical on the free and just society, Centesimus Annus
[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 23/12/2006 20.39]
| 10/25/2006 4:47 PM
| Continuing with R. J. Neuhaus's theme-pertinent recent publications in the English-speaking world
THE REGENSBURG MOMENT & RELATED REFLECTIONS - PART II
• It’s a little thing but it pulls together so much. Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), an outfit on the cutting edge of the culture of death, puts on a full-court media press touting its putative discovery of a new way of getting embryonic stem cells without killing embryos.
magazine plays it up big. The New York Times
bites and runs it as the lead story, written by its chief science editor, on the front page. Knowledgeable critics immediately jump into the fray, pointing out that the technology is not new, that in fact all the embryos used in the experiment were killed, and that the President’s Council on Bioethics had considered the ACT procedure a year earlier and unanimously rejected it as unethical
A few days later, down on a deep inside page, the Times
has a story reporting that the Conference of Catholic Bishops brought pressure on the editors of Nature, who then apologized for their error
There is no acknowledgment of the Times’ error in promoting ACT’s fraudulent claims. Out of the paper’s journalistic sloppiness the editors manage to rescue the satisfaction of once again suggesting that the Church is the enemy of scientific progress
. What would we do without the nation’s newspaper of record? Don’t ask.
• Elie Wiesel’s Night
, first published in this country in 1960, has been for innumerable readers their first introduction to Holocaust literature. It is a compelling narrative of human devastation seen through the eyes of a Jewish child in the death camps.
Many will recall the account of the Nazis’ hanging of a young boy. The hanging is botched and the boy slowly strangles to death as he dangles by the rope. The question is asked, “Where is God?” And Wiesel answers, “Where is He? This is where —hanging here from this gallows.” That scene, and that answer, has had a powerful influence also in Christian thought
Fr. Thomas Weinandy critically evaluates that influence in his splendid article “Does God Suffer?” in the November 2001 issue of First Things
• Christopher Leighton, a Presbyterian with long experience in Jewish-Christian relations, is worried about the message of Night
. Because the action all takes place within the death camps, he fears Christians will not be confronted by the source of evil in the society and the regime, which included many Christians, outside the camps.
But mainly Leighton is worried that Christians will appropriate the story, including the death of the young boy, in support of the Christian narrative of redemption. Francois Mauriac, the noted Catholic thinker who wrote the foreword to the French edition of Night
, did just that.
He wrote: “Did I explain to [Wiesel] that what had been a stumbling block for his faith had become the cornerstone for mine? And that the connection between the cross and human suffering remains, in my view, the key to the unfathomable mystery in which the faith of his childhood was lost?”
This is precisely the wrong Christian response, Leighton contends:
"The tortured screams of those children and their parents did not mend the world. Nor was theirs a sacrificial offering that can reestablish the bonds of intimacy between God and humanity. Any effort to squeeze the Jewish community’s pain into a Christian paradigm compounds the original violence with another layer of violation.
"Indeed, the domestication of Jewish pain by means of comparison with Jesus’ execution indicates a failure on the part of Christians to understand the mystery at the heart of the crucifixion. . . . Differently stated, an encounter with the Holocaust brings Christians face to face with the limits of their own theological prowess, compelling them to reexamine the claim that new life invariably follows in the wake of death.
"If they decline the challenge, they will read and interpret Wiesel’s Night
in ways that simply reaffirm what they have always known. They will learn nothing from the encounter either about others or about themselves."
• There is considerable merit to Leighton’s argument, which appeared in a recent issue of Commentary
. Certainly, it is no part of Christian faith that “new life invariably follows in the wake of death.” That is rank sentimentalism.
And yet, the perception of Mauriac and others that God is the boy dangling at the end of the rope in analogy with God in Christ bearing the weight of all human suffering on the cross is profoundly and irrepressibly Christian.
It is not helpful to say that this is a “domestication” of Jewish suffering, or of the sufferings beyond number borne by others in the course of human history.
On the Jewish side, the esteemed Michael Wyschogrod has probed the connections between the travails of the Jews and the Christian understanding of redemptive suffering. Such matters touch on mysteries that surpass our understanding and must be explored with great precision.
Leighton is right to caution against a facile incorporation of Jewish suffering into the Christian story. Yet there is a deep sense in which that suffering is also ours and is included in the redemptive suffering of Christ.
This question came in for rough headline treatment some years ago in the controversy over the Carmelite monastery at the edge of Auschwitz. Some Jews protested that the Church was trying to “Christianize the Holocaust.”
Yet Christians cannot help but say that the redemptive suffering of Christ is universal and comprehensive. Jewish suffering is indeed different, in that Jews and Judaism have a most particular and intimate connection with the Christian narrative of salvation.
For Christians, the Jewish experience is not entirely “other.” It is not too much to say that there are two Judaisms; the one is called Judaism and the other is called Christianity. Christianity and rabbinic Judaism are the two forms assumed by Judaism following the destruction of the Second Temple
The dispute that divides us, the dispute that may not be definitively resolved until the End Time, is over the question “Who is the Christ?” So Leighton is right in cautioning Christians against viewing the Holocaust “in ways that simply reaffirm what they have always known.” As Mauriac is also right in seeing that Wiesel’s stumbling block is, for Christians, the cornerstone.
• The Wall Street Journal
takes a sympathetic view of Rep. Walter Jones’ proposal that the IRS permit churches and religious leaders to endorse political candidates without imperiling their tax exemption. Frances Kissling of Catholics for a Free Choice and the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance write to take strong exception.
Kissling’s is a letterhead organization with the sole purpose of countering the Church’s teaching on abortion and related life issues. It is more aptly described as anti-Catholic rather than Catholic.
Interfaith Alliance is part of a Democratic alliance trying to counter the influence of the nefarious “religious right.” So to suggest that they are nonpartisan is more than a bit of a stretch. Nonetheless, consider the argument on its merits.
The Rev. Gaddy writes, “If the Jones bill is enacted into law, congregations all over America will be torn apart over partisan politics. Please let us continue to choose our houses of worship based on theology, not on party politics.”
Congregations will be torn apart only if their leaders are foolish enough to make party politics a condition of religious participation. Nothing in the Jones bill would require them to do that, but the constitutionally guaranteed free exercise of religion allows churches to do very foolish things.
The government has no competence — as in authority or wisdom —to regulate religion. In the words of the First Amendment, Congress shall “make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
IRS rules, which are regulatory law under the authority of the Congress, clearly prohibit the free exercise of religion by tax-exempt churches that believe — wrongly, in my view — that their religious mission includes the endorsement of political candidates. I’m somewhat ambivalent about the Jones bill.
Existing IRS rules — despite the fuzzy line between endorsement and exercising other forms of political influence — serve as a modest check on the corruption of religion by political partisanship. But then, protecting religion from its own corruption is no part of the legitimate business of this government.
• “Defining deviancy down,” a fine phrase coined by the late Pat Moynihan, takes many forms. We increasingly witness the process of defining moderation down.
Ian Markham, dean of Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, takes me to task in The Tablet
for being so concerned about Muslim Jihadists whose purpose — repeatedly declared and lethally demonstrated — is to destroy the West.
He acknowledges that there are also extreme views on, as it were, the other side, noting the book by David Ray Griffin of Claremont Graduate School, published by John Knox Press, Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11
Griffin is in the company of radical revisionists who contend that the Twin Towers were destroyed by the United States in a conspiracy organized by the dark forces controlling George W. Bush. Markham writes, “Thousands of people in leftist organizations are being persuaded of this — in my view —implausible conspiracy theory.”
Markham, being a very moderate fellow, thinks the theory implausible, but wants it understood that that is only his personal view. He thus positions himself as a spokesman for the “serious center.”
He deplores my writings on Jihadism as “deeply insensitive pastorally” and declares, “I stand alongside my Muslim colleagues and students and challenge this culture of misunderstanding and suspicion.”
As it happens, Osama bin Laden and his colleagues are not in my pastoral charge, and when they say they are out to destroy the civilization to which I am devoted — and convincingly demonstrate that they mean it — the appropriate response is not pastoral sensitivity but prudent defense.
As for Mr. Markham’s colleagues and students, I have never said a word about them, assuming, as I do, that they are not Jihadists plotting to kill us. It is well known that Hartford Seminary is a center of moderation where one is perfectly free to believe that the Bush administration did not direct the attack of September 11.
• I once got into a lot of trouble when, writing on the judicial usurpation of politics in these pages, I said we should be concerned about the possibility that many Americans might one day conclude that the motto “God and country” has been changed to the question “God or country.”
Now comes an alarming finding from a poll by the Pew Research Center. At least it greatly alarms David Van Biema who, writing in Time
magazine, senses theocracy on the march.
Pew asked 820 self-identified Christians, “Do you think of yourself first as American or as Christian?” Forty-two percent answered “Christian first” and 48 percent answered “America first”; 7 percent didn’t answer.
Now “self-identified Christian” is not a terribly useful category, since that includes close to 90 percent of the population. One would like to know a little more about the level of their Christian belief and practice.
Nonetheless, it is interesting to note that 62 percent of those who described themselves as evangelicals said “Christian first,” while Catholics and oldline Protestants went 62 and 65 percent, respectively, for “American first.”
This might suggest that evangelicals are less prone to the idolatry of nationalism than are Catholics and oldline Protestants. Or, to put it differently, that evangelicals better understand that, in the long tradition of Christian fidelity, including martyrdom, allegiance to Christ of course takes priority over any other allegiance. But that, too, might be misleading.
The term evangelical, as it has come to be used in recent decades, denotes a specific faith commitment and, increasingly, a positioning of oneself in the ongoing culture wars.
By contrast, Catholic and Protestant (even if one specifies mainline Protestant) is often a religio-cultural identifier including many people who are just happen-to-be-by-background members.
In other words, if someone says he is an evangelical, he is probably saying what he himself believes and practices. If someone says he is a Catholic or a Presbyterian, he may simply be indicating the religious community into which he was born. (If evangelicalism is around in its present form fifty or a hundred years from now, there will no doubt be a lot of happen-to-be evangelicals.)
The pity in all this is that only 42 percent of those who identify themselves as Christian seem to understand the priority of a Christian’s allegiance to Christ and his Church
. But, as I say, Mr. Van Biema finds that 42 percent figure cause for alarm.
He asks us to engage in a “thought experiment.” Would we not be alarmed if 42 percent of 820 Muslim-Americans, when asked, “Do you think of yourself first as American or as Muslim?” responded that they are “Muslims first.”
Well yes, some people would be alarmed because they know very little about Muslims and Islam and do not understand that of course a Muslim’s first allegiance is to Allah. But the symmetry Mr. Van Biema suggests in his thought experiment is profoundly misleading.
Muslims in this country are a small minority of no more than 2 percent, most of them relatively recent arrivals, and are associated with a religion in whose name, however illegitimately, war has been declared against America
Quite understandably, many, if not most, Americans think that Muslim allegiance to America is at least a fair question.
Christians, on the other hand, are the overwhelming majority who share a Christian tradition, broadly defined, with those who settled the country, who devised its constitutional order, and who have over almost three centuries given definition to what it means to be an American.
It is perfectly understandable that Christians may think that they know what it means to be an American in a way that many or most Muslims may not know.
What Mr. Van Biema does not know, at least to judge by his essay in Time
, is the political, cultural, and religious reality of America, both past and present. He is clear enough, however, about the ordering of his own allegiances. He says he’s going to get himself an “American First” bumper sticker.
One may reasonably suppose that that means he is not a Christian or, if he happens to be a Christian, not a very serious Christian. Or perhaps he is just terribly confused.
• When, a little more than year ago, Brother Roger Schutz of the Taizé community was, at age 90, fatally stabbed, news stories appeared saying that he had years earlier surreptitiously “converted” to Catholicism from the Reformed Protestant communion to which he belonged.
Now Taizé has officially responded to those stories in a press release. “From a Protestant background, Brother Roger undertook a step that was without precedent since the Reformation: entering progressively into a full communion with the faith of the Catholic Church without a ‘conversion’ that would imply a break with his origins.”
In 1980, during a meeting in Rome in the presence of Pope John Paul II, Brother Roger said, “I have found my own identity as a Christian by reconciling within myself the faith of my origins with the mystery of the Catholic faith, without breaking fellowship with anyone.”
The Taizé statement ends with this: “Those who at all costs want the Christian denominations each to find their own identity in opposition to the others can naturally not grasp Brother Roger’s aims. He was a man of communion, and that is perhaps the most difficult thing for some people to understand.”
John Paul II apparently considered Brother Roger to be in full communion with the Catholic Church, and the pope is the final authority on such matters. It is not unprecedented, but it is very unusual, that one is received into full communion without a formal rite of reception.
One may reasonably assume that Brother Roger abjured, at least in his own mind, those parts of the Reformed tradition that preclude being in full communion with Rome.
When I was received into full communion, I said of my earlier Lutheranism, “Nothing that was good is rejected; all is fulfilled.” I expect that that is the way in which we ought to understand the case of Brother Roger. Most Catholics and others will continue to describe this as “conversion,” and that should not be a big problem. The whole of the Christian life is, or should be, a continuing conversion to the fullness of Christ and his Church.
• Nobody would want to deny the charms of Barbados, although it is not the Institute for Regenerative Medicine (IRM) that usually comes to mind in that connection. IRM claims that it is making Barbados the “Embryonic Stem Cell Capital of the World.”
The institute imports parts of babies, mainly from Ukraine, who were aborted at six to twelve weeks, liquefies them into a baby puree, and injects the mix into customers, who pay $25,000 per shot. The procedure takes no more than an hour or two, and the website of IRM (www.regenmd.com) includes glowing testimonials of clients who claim relief from everything from arthritis to troubled bowels and poor skin texture. Erectile dysfunction, too.
Of course the morally scrupulous may be made uneasy by the procedure, but what’s the point of letting all those human body parts go to waste? The answer to that has never been self-evident to everyone. I note that Webster’s says that the word cannibalism is of Caribbean origin.
• “Few would argue there are direct parallels between the current assaults on liberals in academe and McCarthyism. Unlike the McCarthy era, most threats to academic freedom — real or perceived — do not, yet, involve the state.” Not yet.
A long special report in Britain’s leftward Guardian
depicts a grim picture in which American professors, and even grade school teachers, are being challenged for, among other things, comparing George W. Bush with Adolf Hitler and excoriating the Jewish lobby for its control of U.S. foreign policy. Some of these teachers have even received threatening emails!
Toward the end of the story, it is allowed that the American academy is liberal and that protests against liberal excesses come from only a handful of individuals. But the account concludes by quoting a professor who says, “There’s a pre-written script you have to follow and if you choose not to follow it, then there are consequences, so you become very self-conscious about what you say. . . . Everybody is looking over their shoulders.”
It sounds like McCarthyism to me. Although there is something to be said for professors being self-conscious about what they say.
• I have written before about R.S. Thomas, but Anthony Daniels writes about him better than I. This is from the New Criterion:
"But the tutelary literary spirit of modern North Wales is the great poet R.S. Thomas, who died aged eighty-seven in 2000. He was a strange figure, an Anglican priest who was a Welsh nationalist, fierce to the point of condoning violence and even murder, an angry man who half-believed in God without appearing to like Him very much, a lyric poet who had few illusions about the harshness of nature, a man who wrote his poetry in his mother-tongue, English, but sometimes refused to speak it to visitors who knew no Welsh (the great majority of them, after all), to pay them back for the persecution, or rather petty humiliations, that Welsh-speakers had suffered over the years, even though it was highly unlikely that any of them were personally responsible for those humiliations.
"He made generalizations about the English that, if he had made them about practically any other group, would have landed him in court on a charge of incitement to racial hatred, while he berated the Welsh for their insufficiently militant nationalism, supinely preferring their own individual material advancement and comfort to the cause. He was like an Old Testament prophet, who waxed exceedingly, though somewhat indiscriminately, wrathful. Humanity didn’t please him."
• Thomas could be affirmative, as they say, about life. There is this:
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
But mainly, writes Daniels, there is the vulgarity and waste that enraged Thomas. “In a time of the deepest superficiality, if I may put it thus, he comes like a prophet crying in the wilderness.” He may well put it thus.
• Catherine de Hueck Doherty was a most remarkable woman who founded a community of laypeople and priests known as Madonna House. Their main place is in Combermere, Ontario, close to my childhood home, so I feel a special connection with them.
Fr. Robert Wild, who is postulator for Catherine’s cause (meaning he’s leading the effort to have her declared a saint), sends me an entry from her journal, dated May 3, 1939: “Off to Times Square to meet Dorothy Day for lunch. Went to Child’s. Had a lovely visit with her. Always consider her wonderful, more convinced than ever that she is a saint. What a joy to be with her. She shines with an inward light that no one can suppress. Her difficulties are as mine — mostly with the human beings and their blindness and self-love — and ability to put second things first.”
I confess that my difficulties as well are mostly with human beings. And especially with those who don’t put first things first.
• Gordon Wood again, this time in the New York Review of Books
, where he discusses recent literature on religion and the American founding, including Jon Meacham’s American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation
Despite the current chatter about the threat of theocracy, Wood writes, “There is no religious establishment here and not much formal connection between religion and government; in fact, over the past generation there has been an almost obsessive concern to keep religion apart from the public culture and affairs of the state.”
Wood debunks — as so many others have, to limited effect in our public discourse — the notion that the First Amendment was intended to separate religion from public life
Established religions continued in the states well into the nineteenth century. Religious tolerance was forced by religious pluralism. “The presence of many different sects within the same community slowly and begrudgingly compelled people into toleration.”
Wood takes sharp issue with the gist of Meacham’s argument that we can end our present confusions and conflicts by “recovering the sense and spirit of the Founding era.” The founding era, Wood contends, was very unlike our own.
He is also impatient with the constant appeals to “the separation of church and state,” the famous phrase in Jefferson’s letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, which received secular sacralization, so to speak, in the Supreme Court’s Everson decision of 1947.
That decision “set in motion a series of ever more confusing decisions over the next sixty years as the Supreme Court struggled to maintain this wall of separation. The Court has labored to define what is permissible and what is impermissible in what has become an increasingly capricious relationship between church and state.”
The wall of separation was not the main point of Jefferson’s letter, and he intended it only as a temporary disposition until the realization of his hope that, as he wrote in 1822, “there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die an Unitarian.”
The separation of church and state, if one must use that phrase, is not the product of constitutional law or Jeffersonian deism but of the religious situation itself
“The principal source of our separation of church and state was never enlightened rationalism, important as that is to us today, but rather growing realization by the various competing religious groups that it was better to neutralize the state in matters of religion than run the risk of one of their opponents gaining control of the government.”
As we must never tire of explaining, the “no establishment” provision of the First Amendment is entirely in the service of the “free exercise of religion.”
Wood’s instructive essay only indirectly addresses the very different circumstance today in which the lines of suspicion and hostility are less and less between competing religious groups and more and more between publicly assertive religion in response to publicly assertive secularism. But that is for another time.
• A while back I chided the Augustinians of Villanova University for insisting that people stand rather than kneel during the Mass.
A distinguished theologian writes to take me to task for not recognizing that the fathers there are the true traditionalists. He notes that in the patristic era and still today in the Orthodox Church, the practice is to stand, not kneel. “I bring this to your attention only to point out that it is kneeling and not standing which is a liturgical innovation in the West,” he writes.
True enough, and one might well wish that the Eucharist in the West were typically celebrated with the majesty and solemnity of the Divine Liturgy found among many Orthodox. For well over a millennium, however, liturgical reverence in the West has been associated with kneeling. Generations of piety, devotion, and catechesis have been significantly formed by that bodily gesture of adoration and prayer.
To speak of kneeling as an “innovation” is a clever academic point but, if I may be permitted to say so, suggests a certain contempt for the lived spiritual experience of Catholics beyond numbering over the centuries and still today.
As far as I know, the Augustinians of Villanova are of the Latin Rite. Kneeling, in the West, is now the tradition, and the insistence of some liturgists and pastors that everybody must stand is the innovation. The much-publicized battles over this question in some parishes and dioceses is a pastoral scandal created by an authoritarian clericalism that reflects a fundamental lack of respect for the lived experience and piety of the People of God — the very thing that, in other contexts, the innovators claim to champion.
• The socialist journal New Politics
has a special issue on religion. Harvey Cox of Harvard Divinity School is hopeful about the possibility of forming an alliance between religion and the left. While the religious right is dominant in this country, and the left can no longer count on Jews and Blacks, he sees promising developments in Asia and is heartened by the peace activism of a Buddhist group called Soka Gakkai.
In this country, he looks to organized labor and is encouraged by the Chicago-based Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice. (Apart from government employees, about 7 percent of American workers belong to labor unions.)
Other contributors to the special issue of New Politics
are more skeptical about an alliance with religion, and some think it is as unlikely as it is bad. In his article, French philosopher Michael Onfray calls for a revival of the work of the seventeenth century atheist priest and philosopher Jean Meslier, who, like Onfray, was militantly anti-Christian.
The concluding essay by Chris Rhoades Dykema says religion is “essentially male-dominant, ascetic, misogynist, and anti-democratic.” He places his hope in “changing family structure” that leads inevitably to further secularization and makes religion a nonissue. I don’t know whether New Politics
is read by the folks at the religion outreach office of the Democratic National Committee.
• It is a year since Rome’s Congregation for Education issued the instruction that men with “deep-seated” homosexual tendencies should not be admitted to seminary or ordained to priesthood.
In “Homosexuality and Religious Life,” James Arbor, who has been a professed religious for forty years, makes a vigorous argument that the same rule should apply to religious communities.
Writing in The Priest
, which is published by Our Sunday Visitor, he says, “Although there are celibate and chaste homosexuals in almost every congregation who have served the Church in a variety of ways, I believe that it is unjust to invite a man who is sexually attracted to men into an all-male environment or a woman who is sexually attracted to women into an all-female environment.
"It is unjust to the individual and to the religious community. It puts the individual in grave danger of personal moral and spiritual collapse and it risks profoundly corrupting the dynamics and life of the religious community.”
He goes on to detail the ways in which homosexual attractions lead to cliques, patterns of favoritism, and deep-seated resentments that undermine community life. His final line is this: “Once the laity becomes convinced that a community is simply a gay commune, the effective evangelical witness of that community comes to an end.”
Arbor’s argument deserves careful reading. As for the instruction of last November 29, it is not easy to assess its influence. Some influential commentators, with Jesuits conspicuous among them, have publicly and explicitly rejected the instruction. With few exceptions, bishops have been silent. It is possible that Rome will address the question again when the Congregation for Education has finished working through the reports from the recent visitation of U.S. seminaries.
• Entertainment worship is big business. There is, unsurprisingly, even a slick publication called Church Production Magazine. A big advertiser is “EasyWorship Multimedia Software.” Happy are they who are at ease in Zion, as the prophet did not say. And an article on “The Fundamentals of Prosumer Video Camera Operation.”
One can imagine what the early-twentieth-century authors of The Fundamentals might think. The lead piece is on Hope Community Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. “If we expect to reach our culture we must keep up with them technically. Our neighbors and friends who are far from God are used to surround-sound movies in HD and state of the art lighting at live concerts and shows they attend.
"We want our congregation to bring their friends and not have them turned off because we seem antiquated in our methodology. I would beg the leadership not to skimp in the area of A/V equipment.” One can just hear a friend or neighbor saying, “Almost I would be a Christian, but that A/V equipment is so 2004.”
The writer admits that the best in A/V and lighting is costly, even extravagant. “It is as extravagant as the perfume that was poured on our Lord’s feet and Jesus said of her, ‘Wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be talked about in her memory’ (Matthew 26:13). Don’t be frivolous, but why not be extravagant for God? He deserves our best.”
Keeping God happy “technically” cannot be done on the cheap. ZFX is big in the entertainment worship industry and “has proudly assisted in the awe-inspiring finale of many passion plays with the ascension of Jesus to Heaven. We have also added flying angels to numerous Living Christmas Trees. . . . Let us assist you in retelling the greatest story ever told.”
You say these people are sincere, and I regret to say you’re right. But it’s impressive. Consider what ZFX did for Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. “We added two flying angels that descended from the ceiling high above. . . . The angels needed 30 feet of lift to travel the full length of the flying tracks. This was not possible with the flying equipment provided by their previous vendor.”
For the Annunciation, the director “wanted Gabriel to continually face Mary as he sang to her and moved around the stage. ZFX custom built a radio controlled apparatus that allowed him to rotate and face any direction during his flight.” The audience cheered. And the angels wept.
• Is neoconservatism Jewish? There is no doubt that the movement, if that is what it is, is largely composed of Jewish liberals who were, in Irving Kristol’s phrase, mugged by reality.
In any event, that is the focus of Murray Friedman’s The Neoconservative Revolution: Jewish Intellectuals and the Shaping of Public Policy
, reviewed by Wilfred McClay in Commentary
. Becoming a neoconservative meant revolting against tribal norms.
McClay writes: “There is nothing exclusively Jewish about this experience, either. But for individual Jews, especially those still likely to perceive themselves as marginal in American culture, such a revolt could not help being especially daunting.
"It meant challenging not only the status quo within the safe havens of academia, where many had congregated, but also the near-universal assumptions of American Jewish life itself, assumptions that had come to be seen, however wrongly, as the essence of Jewish identity.
"Even the espousal of anticommunism, not to mention an openly favorable view of capitalism, carried a special price for Jews, given the intensity with which the socialist ideal was exalted in American Jewish thought. So, too, given the strong American Jewish identification with the cause of civil rights, did the willingness to break from liberal ranks on issues of race.
"And so did the willingness to make common cause with conservative Christians in promoting a post-secular, post-separationist ethos that to secular liberal Jews has seemed nothing short of madness.
"Such conclusions have not been arrived at easily, and the existential weight entailed in acting on one’s ‘second thoughts’ is a crucial part of the story. If there is anything Friedman’s book demonstrates conclusively, it is the impossibility at this point of writing a definitive history of the neoconservative disposition. That is, in part, because it is still so visibly in motion.
"But as is true of so many characteristically American phenomena, it also defies simple categories of cultural analysis. Indeed, the difficulty of either completely affirming or completely denying the specifically Jewish character of neoconservatism may turn out to be one of its greatest assets —and another sign of its thoroughgoing Americanness.”
• A while back I commented with great appreciation on a Christmas card depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary comforting Eve. I mentioned that it was a marvelous and beautifully orthodox novum in the tradition of Christian art and poetry. Readers have been writing here and also to the sisters who produced the card wanting to buy copies.
The picture on the card is by the youngest and the poem by the oldest sister of the community. The Abbess, Mother Gail Fitzpatrick, tells me they don’t sell the card. But here’s an idea (not suggested by Mother Gail): Make a generous donation and you might get on their Christmas card list. The address is Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey, 8400 Abbey Hill Road, Dubuque, Iowa 52003.
• We all have to cope with people who are eager to let you know how very accomplished or influential they are. This is occasioned by nobody in particular, but egregious claims to importance, and displays of self-importance, regularly bring to mind what is perhaps my favorite Chesterton poem, “The Donkey.” (It is also a needed reminder for each of us in particular.)
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 25/10/2006 18.34]
| 10/28/2006 10:58 PM
|Here is a well-written and engaging article from a new American Jewish journal of ideas (the current year is only Vol. 2
with a Jewish intellectual's reflections on, essentially, what it feels like to be a Jew in today's world. It is a refreshing change of perspective from our own Christianocentricity and lately, our enforced interest in Islam. Mr. Garfinkle is the editor of The American Interest.
The Madness of Jewcentricity
By Adam Garfinkle
...The issue before your eyes, dear reader, went to press on September 29, which fell smack dab between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — within the ten-day period called the Days of Awe, in the new year of 5767.
I confess, too (it’s the season, after all), to being a little awestruck during these Days of Awe by the presence of an unusually intense concentration of what I call Jewcentricity
: the idea, or the intimation, or the subconscious presumption — as the case may be — that Jews are somehow necessarily to be found at the very center of global-historical events.
Jewcentricity is not a fully universal phenomenon, at least not yet. True, minorities of intellectuals in places like Japan and Malaysia manage to produce anti-Semitic rants despite the historical absence of Jews in those lands, but Jewcentricity is mostly confined to the Abrahamic world — to what we commonly call the West and to Dar al-Islam.
Jewcentricity abounds everywhere in the Abrahamic world these days, with examples ranging from the silly to the sublime. Let’s start with the silly — why not?
It came to light in September that Senator George Allen, Republican of Virginia, son of the late great coach of the revered (in this town, anyway) Washington Redskins, was born to a Jewish woman — at least to a woman born and raised as a Jew in Tunisia. According to Jewish law, that makes the Senator a Jew.
Only of course he is not a Jew in any meaningful sense. He was not raised or educated as a Jew; he therefore does not see the world through the eyes of a Jew, evincing Jewish moral sensibilities or exhibiting any sign of Jewish historical memory.
And yet for weeks after this revelation, the local and indeed the national press spilled more ink on George Allen’s practically meaningless Jewish origins and his parents’ twisted story of love and denial than on, say, genocide in Darfur. Why?
Because as the old journalistic adage goes, Jews is news, and there are no Jews in Darfur. Darfur is merely a shockingly misunderstood tragedy, in which the adjective “humanitarian” and the proper noun analogue “Rwanda” have been allowed to wrongly define a situation that should instead be understood as “highly political” and analogous to “Halabja.” [Town in Iraq whose inhabitants were murdered by poison gas on orders of Saddam Hussein
] But the Allen affair, well, that really gets pulses up and moving.
But why should it? Does George Allen’s Jewish “blood” suggest to some voters that he’s somehow inherently smarter, shiftier or shrewder than they thought? (I know, people don’t say or write such things, merely think them, but never mind.) Why does this story send packs of journalists scurrying to discover the etymology of the word “macaca”, as if retrospectively it might be traceable to some exotic Tunisian Jewish dialect? (Mom denied it.)
The point is, none of this matters, or should matter, to any reasonable person, particularly in light of the many genuine issues in the public domain that are serious and that do demand attention.
Alas, “human interest” in the more banal sense of the phrase explains the Allen affair, as it has explained similar affairs in the past. And it is true: The story clearly does evoke strong emotions, particularly for Jews and those who take an interest for whatever reason in Jews.
George Allen responded to his mother’s revelation, in part, by trumpeting his continuing lack of aversion to eating ham sandwiches. Some Jews, and others, found this remark insensitive. Not me; why on earth should someone who knows nothing about the purposes of kashrut
[Jewish dietary laws
] care one way or the other about what he eats?
What evoked my emotions was Mother Allen’s story of why she hid her Jewish origins and abandoned all Jewish practice once arrived in the United States after World War II. Her father Felix Lumbroso, she said, had been imprisoned and his life put at risk by the Nazis, and she wanted to spare her offspring the unspeakable fear of what being a Jew could, and often did, mean in this unpredictable, skittering world of ours.
Of course, this is nothing very unusual: The Holocaust evoked many such reactions among Jews, as did by now uncountable earlier tragedies and the fears they inspired. No one should presume to judge others, since no one can really put himself in the elder Mrs. Allen’s place, but I have always found such stories deeply sad.
As the rabbis always say, yes, it is hard to be a Jew. But as they also say, it is still worth it. Not everyone is brave, and people do get weary. Nonetheless, for a parent to deny their children’s right to live as Jews, a right hard earned over centuries and even millennia, this I find ineffably sad
But one gets used to this sort of thing. It was not so long ago that Madeleine Albright apparently made a similar discovery about her Jewish roots, not roots in Tunisia but in Czechoslovakia. Her father, Josef Korbel, did something fairly similar to that which Etty Allen did — but there are notable differences in the tales as told and understood.
When Madeleine Albright told her story in February 1997, many observers found it impossible to believe that she had not known all along that at least three, and probably all four, of her grandparents were Jews. After all, there were, as many hastened to point out, her not-all-that-distant Jewish cousins, and there was the situation itself: the wartime exile from Europe and the two prematurely deceased grandparents, the fairly obvious meaning of which no historically knowledgeable person could evade.
Yet I was not then and am still not now persuaded that Madeleine Albright lied in any ordinary sense about the discovery of her Jewish origins. We should all retain a healthy respect for a person’s capacity for self-deception, especially a person born into parlous and compromising circumstances.
Harder to respect is the moral illiteracy that sometimes follows the extreme cognitive dissonance attending such circumstances. With the revelations, Ms. Albright pronounced herself proud of her parents, and called her father “brave” for what he did.
But what did Josef Korbel do? As did Etty Allen, he hid the light of Torah from his own children, but, privileged as a Czech diplomat, he also took his family to safety before anyone could be imprisoned or harmed. Indeed, Josef Korbel left Czechoslovakia not just once, because of the Nazis, but a second time because of the Communists.
Again, one must not judge; none of us really knows what we might have done under the circumstances. But to call this brave? Czech Jews who maintained their dignity and their identity, most of whom perished at Treblinka and other death camps—and some of whom we know sang not only Ani Ma’amin (“I believe”) but the Czech anthem at the very doors of the gas chambers — these people were brave.
Brave too were those remaining few Czech Jews and the far greater number of resolute Christian Czechs and Slovaks who suffered under half a century of communist tyranny, but never let the diminished flame of their freedom die away.
These stories of hidden Jews, “half-Jews”, Jews deceived by their parents allegedly for their own sake, converted Jews, and above all variously and colorfully confused Jews roll through history, not least recent American history. Every story is different.
Had it not been for an insensitive Orthodox rabbi in Maine many years ago, Senator and later Secretary of Defense William Cohen might have lived his life as a Jew. Displaced one generation, there are the older stories of the forebears of Barry Goldwater and Caspar Weinberger, and the newer story about John Kerry’s paternal grandparents. James Schlesinger, a Jewish-born convert to Christianity, is, among senior political figures, in a category of his own.
And then there is the more recent tale of the “neoconservatives”, some of whom have served in high government positions and a majority of whom are alleged to be Jews — though mostly non- or “lightly” practicing Jews. What does this mean?
Well, a whole genre of quite weird literature has arisen to tell us, a literature claiming knowledge of a neoconservative “cabal” (from a Hebrew word, as it happens) hard at work hijacking American foreign policy
The cabal theory bears a cousinly relation to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and is not so far removed either from para-conspiracy theories about the hypertrophic power of the “Israel lobby.
And, for good measure, American opera buffs these days are enjoying a new book by Rodney Bolt, The Librettist of Venice
, about the remarkable Lorenzo Da Ponte, described as Mozart’s poet, Casanova’s friend, the first and perhaps greatest impresario of Italian opera in America — and a Venice-born Jew whose father had him baptized just weeks after his Bar Mitzvah so that he might acquire education and opportunity in what were tough times for northern Italian Jews.
And so what? What have the Jewish origins of any of these people really to do with the way they saw problems, made decisions, lived their lives? The answer is unknowable, but almost certainly falls into the broad category of “not much.” Yet still the stories pour forth, the fascination with them seems never to slacken, and the ink spills out by the bucket. So go these mysterious but mostly harmless manifestations of Jewcentricity.
Not all cases of Jewcentricity are so inconsequential, however, or so harmless. I spent the first three weeks of September in Europe, the first in blissful repose in Provence, the second more or less working in Paris and Berlin, and the third doing much the same in Frankfurt and Budapest.
Asked by French colleagues to speak about America and the Middle East, once in private, once publicly, I was happy to do so. In the public presentation I offered a taxonomy of the main drivers of current realities in the Arab and (less pointedly because so much more diverse) the Muslim worlds. I noted six such drivers.
First and most important are the ongoing travails of modernization as the West collides mostly inadvertently with the Muslim world
, giving off sparks of Islamic factionalism, fundamentalism and violence discussed so insightfully in these pages by Anna Simons, Peter Berger and others.
Second is the rise of Wahhabism within the Sunni Muslim world
, whose faint beginning can be nicely dated to 1924, the year of the first published oil concession in Arabia and the year that the legions of Ibn Saud conquered the Hejaz and established control over Mecca and Medina.
Third is the more recent political awakening of the Shi‘a
, its earlier manifestations brilliantly chronicled in Fouad Ajami’s The Vanished Imam
, and its more recent impact as plain as it is worrisome in Iraq’s burgeoning civil war.
Fourth is the end of the Cold War, which has sharply expanded the freedom of action of regional governments
Fifth is the impact of the information revolution, which has raised the specter of a cybercaliphate
. The Internet has accelerated and deepened the inherently radicalizing amalgamation and magnification of real and imagined Muslim grievances from Andalus to Mindanao, and it has simultaneously made available new methods for causing mayhem in those places and many others.
And sixth is American policy toward the Middle East since 9/11, not least the very mixed effects of the so-called freedom agenda
. This factor is not as deep historically as the other five, but still significant owing to the unprecedented power of the United States to influence the region.
After I completed my presentation, I knew what would happen next, particularly at a moment when the aftershocks of the summer war between Israel and Hizballah were still being felt—and it did.
“You haven’t mentioned Israel or Palestine”, said the first evidently amazed questioner, as nearly the entire assembled Parisian congregation seemed to nod in unison. “Don’t you think that conflict is really central to the region, and to the world?”
Let me not be coy: I stand second to none in wishing the Arab-Israeli conflict to be settled once and for all, fairly, justly and satisfactorily to all sides, and there is no doubt that settling it would have a benign affect on the region’s misanthropies. A settlement would to some unknown degree reduce pressures for radical recruitment and mobilization.
But the idea, so popular in Europe and among some in the United States, that an Arab-Israeli settlement would have a major positive impact in the War on Terror, that it would somehow decisively affect energy issues, that it would have a major beneficial effect on the future, say, of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Morocco — all more broadly consequential matters than what happens in Palestine — is a wishful fantasy
The six drivers I outlined really do explain the vast majority of what social scientists call the variance in the Middle East, and with the partial exception of the fifth driver, none of them has much to do with Israelis, Palestinians, Jerusalem and the rest.
More than that, the logic that links a settlement of Arab-Israeli issues (not only Palestine but also the matter of peace between Israel and Syria, and Israel and Lebanon) to a major amelioration of Islamist terrorism leaves a great deal to be desired.
An Arab-Israeli settlement, all Western diplomats and politicians agree, will further legitimate, protect and support a Jewish state in the land of Israel within some borders. Anyone who thinks that such a result will satisfy salafi
(?) fanatics clearly does not understand their views.
More likely, Islamist radicals would redouble their efforts to prevent any such settlement, and violence and terrorism would most likely rise, at least in the short term. Opponents of such a settlement would attack any Arab, and any Muslim, who would dare put his seal to such an agreement, and they would attack any Western state whose good offices helped to mediate or otherwise bring it about
There is a corollary to the conviction of the centrality of Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict to all that goes on in the Middle East, and by extension the world. Some have argued that the U.S. government has not done enough to solve the Arab-Israeli problem, an argument that rose to crescendo toward the end of the Bush Administration’s first term.
This corollary comes in two variants. One is that if only the United States tried hard enough, it could indeed settle the matter, if necessary by imposition. But it is not as though imposition is easy to impose, or wise in any case; and it is not as though U.S. diplomacy has not tried hard. None tried harder than the George H.W. Bush Administration and the two Clinton Administrations, and they did not succeed.
The reason comes down to a simple truth that pervades international history: While it takes two (or more) parties to resolve a conflict and bring peace, it takes only one to continue a conflict and to bring war
. And as ought now to be plain to all but the most obtuse, the PLO of Yasir Arafat was unwilling to make peace on terms any Israeli government could accept, a fact that became plain to President Bush in the wake of the infamous Karine-A affair, and a fact on which Bill Clinton holds forth with some zest at any given opportunity.
The second variant is more subtle. It takes a diplomat, the sort of person of whom Lawrence Durrell wrote in Justine: “His character was as thin as a single skin of goldleaf—the veneer of culture which diplomats are in better position to acquire than most men.”
This variant coalesces in the view that even if a settlement, or major progress toward a settlement, is not now possible, the U.S. government should still go through the motions of trying, because doing so maintains the value of American diplomatic equities with all parties against the day when progress might in fact be possible.
This view is what led several richly experienced veterans of Arab-Israeli diplomacy to remark in the course of this past summer’s mini-war that never before had an American administration allowed the appearance of perfect symmetry between U.S. and Israeli interests in a moment of crisis.
This was not a criticism of the substance of American policy, but of the “optic”, and it is an observation with much merit. When a U.S. secretary of state flies to the region and cannot find a single Arab capital to host her, it foretells the need for heavy lifting ahead.
Jewcentricity helps to explain some of this. The senior figures of the Bush Administration have been an unusually blunt group as politicians-cum-statesmen go. A good deal of what some abroad have taken to be arrogance has been, at least by the light of Administration figures themselves, merely unvarnished honesty — the sort of Jimmy Stewart, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, straight-talking style most Americans well appreciate.
And when it comes to the Middle East, George W. Bush is not ashamed of his admiration for Israel, his pride in U.S. support for Israel, and his personal belief as a born-again Christian that Israel, as the state of the Jewish people, plays a unique role in history.
Though some diplomats may rue the Administration’s reluctance to concern itself with appearances, the President’s approach is broadly popular, particularly among the growing legions of Evangelical Protestants (a growth that for theological reasons conduces to rising forms of Jewcentricity in the United States)[1 - See the discussion and the statistics in Walter Russell Mead, “God’s Country?” Foreign Affairs (September/October 2006
The President knows, too, that much of the Muslim world today hosts anti-Semitic impulses of the most rancid and irrational kind
. (Consider that the worst insult Sheikh Nasrallah could think of for Druse leader Walid Jumblatt, his erstwhile Lebanese opponent, was to call him “a Jew.”)
Jewcentricity, alas, is a fact of Muslim life. Why else would Osama bin Laden’s famous 1998 fatwa refer to “crusaders and Jews”, as if crusaders aren’t challenge enough? Why else the widely believed theory in the Muslim world that the Mossad caused 9/11 and that Jews knew not to go to the World Trade Center on that day? Why else does the Hamas Charter reference the Protocols of the Elders of Zion? Why else did former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad blame the Jews for his country’s woes?
None of this implies that the Bush Administration gives the Israeli government of the day a pass on whatever it does. It probably does mean, however, that the President finds it both difficult and unseemly to criticize and otherwise dump on Israel just for show, for the sake of the diplomats’ proverbial “optic”, in the face of such irrational hatred and thus such an unpromising political environment for peace.
If the Arab-Israeli conflict really is not central to the many serious problems of the Middle East, then why do so many people insist otherwise? Here again, we must return to the psychological domain of “human interest.”
Some Western observers think that the conflict is central because Arabs and Muslims so often tell them it is
. They do not readily appreciate how convenient the conflict is for deflecting discontent within Arab countries, where most people see recent history not, as we do, through the lens of the Cold War, but through the lens of colonization and de-colonization
To them, Israel appears Western, so it fits as well within the anti-colonialist prism as it does within traditional Islamic images of the Jew as cowardly and sneaky. Palestine is, moreover, one of few issues that nearly all Muslims can agree on, so it becomes a natural rhetorical vanguard in any political conversation with Westerners.[2 - See Michael Scott Doran, “Palestine, Iraq, and American Strategy”, Foreign Affairs (January/February 2003
Not that many Arabs and Muslims do not feel deeply about the matter; they do, and they have devised their own narratives accordingly — just as all protagonists in existential conflicts do. The centrality of Palestine has thus become a kind of social-psychological fact, one that is hardly trivial. But it is not thereby made into a strategic fact, and Westerners do not well serve their own interests by confusing these categories
There are several other reasons for the excessive focus on Israel/Palestine, most of which are fairly obvious. Large and increasingly problematic Muslim populations in many European countries affect how politicians speak, and arguably think, about the Middle East.
Journalists tend to cluster in Israel rather than, say, Amman, Riyadh or Khartoum, because Israeli culture is more open and convivial to Westerners —and where the journalists and their cameramen are, that’s where the news is.
Additionally, to the naked eye, most Israelis appear to live and think like Westerners, and it is natural that Westerners take a greater interest in people who remind them of themselves than in people who don’t (those in Darfur, say). Then there is the venerable age of the Arab-Israeli conflict, nearly sixty years old and still going strong, so that perseverating over it is, for many, a habit — and for some a career.
But the most important of these “human interest” reasons, I suspect, is again something a bit more recondite. Educated Europeans know that their own histories, far more deeply than American history, are entwined with that of the Jews.
This is not only because Jews were for many centuries the most prominent “other” within most European cultures, and it is not only because of the Holocaust. It is also because the enormous influence of Christianity over everything that Europe is and will be — as the Pope suggested so brilliantly at Regensburg —owes much at its roots to the Hebrew Bible and to the experience of Israel in the world.
As Jews were for centuries at the epicenter of Christian theology in Europe, so today, in a largely post-Christian Europe, Israel is at the epicenter of the European political worldview. It is a secularized view, to be sure, but it is at the same time a vestige of a religious obsession so deeply rooted in the European psyche that it cannot be readily named.
Just as the Pope challenged Europe’s post-Christians to plumb the moral epistemology of their own secular humanism, knowing they would have no honest choice but to affirm its Christian origins, so the European fixation with Israel has similarly obscured origins.
Not long after 9/11, Jonathan Rosen wrote of his father, a Viennese-born Jew who fled post-Anschluss Austria in 1938. Rosen’s father, whose own parents were murdered in the Holocaust, would go to bed with a transistor radio tuned to an all-news station. Rosen wrote that his father “always expected bad news”, but perhaps hoped for the repetition of past evils “so that he could rectify old responses.” This did not resonate so strongly with me, my own father having been born right here in Washington, DC, in 1905 — a man who, as far as I know, had only ever fled from the occasional bill collector.
But something else Rosen wrote did strike me, no doubt because it was something I had allowed to alight only on the edges of my rattled post-9/11 consciousness.
“In recent weeks”, he admitted, “I have been reminded, in ways too plentiful to ignore, about the role Jews play in the fantasy life of the world. Jews were not the cause of World War II, but they were at the metaphysical center” of it. Jews are not the cause of apocalyptical Islamist terrorism either, “but they have been placed at the center of it in mysterious and disturbing ways.” - (Rosen, “The Uncomfortable Question of Anti-Semitism”, New York Times Magazine, November 4, 2001
Rosen put his finger right on it, on the seemingly eternal madness of Jewcentricity, a madness that now binds Jews, Muslims and Americans together in the most improbable ways
. Rosen grew up determined to shed his refugee father’s acerbic view of life, he says, as “an act of mental health.” But now, wrote Rosen, “everything has come to American soil.”
So it has, and for many American Evangelicals this twinning of American and Israeli circumstances proves their religion’s essential truth. But it has come with an almost palpable sense of fatigue for many Jews, some in Israel but more, it seems, in the United States.
Israelis have shown no lack of enthusiasm for defending themselves despite the recent fecklessness of their political and military leaders. But we now have Jewish columnists like Richard Cohen of the Washington Post
proclaiming that the creation of Israel was “a mistake” — this at a time when Hizballah missiles were raining down on civilians throughout northern Israel. [Cohen, “Hunker Down with History”, Washington Post, July 18, 2006
] (Perhaps instead a certain Mr. and Mrs. Cohen made a mistake some many years ago.)
Israel was no mistake; the difficulty of demonstrating counterfactuals aside, it is hard to see how the circumstances of world Jewry would be better today had Israel never been born. Nor is it obvious that the Near East would have been a garden of delight all these years in Israel’s absence.
But Israel does now face a deadly serious strategic dilemma. In the aftermath of the August 14 ceasefire there started a predictable but infantile game of arguing over “who won” the mini-war. This is beside the point.
The point is that conditions now exist in which the merger of Shi‘a-infused eliminationist ideology and modern military technology raises the prospect that vast reaches of Israel can be turned into a “no go” zone in a mere hour or two simply at the wave of a murderous hand in Tehran or Beirut
. That makes Israel the first test case of the post-Westphalian era, the sovereign state most likely to have its basic peace and security destroyed by fanatical non-state actors
Israelis are lucky in a way to have discovered Hizballah’s capacity to extend the range of Iranian military power before that power surreptitiously grew even more lethal than it already is. Israel’s dilemma is how to deter the kind of threat it now faces, seemingly in perpetuity, without resort to an explicit nuclear weapons posture, and how to do it in a way that does not prevent those of its neighbors who wish to make peace from doing so.
This is, to date, a unique problem, the future of which bears enormous global consequences, for the position in which Israel finds itself on account of its radical Shi‘a adversaries is precisely the position that al-Qaeda and its affiliates seek to impose on the United States
Yom Kippur is coming soon [the article was written in September
], and on Yom Kippur we Jews collectively confess our sins and shortcomings. It is a ritual catharsis that is supposed to lighten our burdens, freshen our resolve to be better people, and renew our capacity for compassion. It works, too.
But for me, this year, there is a problem. On the one hand, I am sick of Jewcentric fantasies, silly and serious alike. I don’t care what Etty Allen did sixty years ago or how much her son likes ham, I can’t change the lurid aspirations of Jew-loathing Muslim fanatics, and I can’t get more than a word in edgewise with Israel-fixated politicians and intellectuals.
But on the other hand, the High Holiday liturgy bids me say: “Thou hast chosen us from all peoples; thou has loved us and taken pleasure in us, and has exalted us above all tongues. Thou hast sanctified us by thy commandments, and hast drawn us near, O our King, unto thy service.”
My prayer book too, alas, is Jewcentric.
Unto thy service, huh? Suppose some of us are not in the mood to be chosen? Suppose we’d rather, like Greta Garbo, just be left alone? Well, that, precisely, is why the philosophic climax of the Yom Kippur service is the recitation of the Book of Jonah. Jonah was about as thrilled to take on Nineveh, I suppose, as I am to tell European audiences things they just don’t want to hear. But in the end who really has a choice?
1. See the discussion and the statistics in Walter Russell Mead, “God’s Country?” Foreign Affairs (September/October 2006).
2. See Michael Scott Doran, “Palestine, Iraq, and American Strategy”, Foreign Affairs (January/February 2003).
3. Rosen, “The Uncomfortable Question of Anti-Semitism”, New York Times Magazine, November 4, 2001.
4. Cohen, “Hunker Down with History”, Washington Post, July 18, 2006.
In FIRST THINGS, Richard John Neuhaus comments on Garfinkle's essay:
Jewcentricity is a word that will probably not catch on, but Adam Garfinkle employs it to good effect in trying to explain some European habits of mind, or mindlessness, as the case may be. He writes:
"Educated Europeans know that their own histories, far more deeply than American history, are entwined with that of the Jews. This is not only because Jews were for many centuries the most prominent “other” within most European cultures, and it is not only because of the Holocaust. It is also because the enormous influence of Christianity over everything that Europe is and will be — as the Pope suggested so brilliantly at Regensburg — owes much at its roots to the Hebrew Bible and to the experience of Israel in the world.
"As Jews were for centuries at the epicenter of Christian theology in Europe, so today, in a largely post-Christian Europe, Israel is at the epicenter of the European political worldview. It is a secularized view, to be sure, but it is at the same time a vestige of a religious obsession so deeply rooted in the European psyche that it cannot be readily named. Just as the Pope challenged Europe’s post-Christians to plumb the moral epistemology of their own secular humanism, knowing they would have no honest choice but to affirm its Christian origins, so the European fixation with Israel has similarly obscured origins."
I’m not sure what it means to say that Jews were at the epicenter of Christian theology, but it is certainly the case that Christianity is inexplicable apart from Judaism. Up until the toleration of Christianity under Constantine and its later establishment, it is fair to say that the Roman world viewed rabbinic Judaism and Christianity as two versions of Judaism, and in many ways that was, in fact, the case.
Contemporary Europe is haunted by nationalisms past that drew it into unspeakably destructive wars, and most particularly by Hitler’s National Socialism. Hitler made no secret of his belief that the war on the Jews was aimed at exterminating the “root causes” of the Christianity that he despised.
The sadness of Europe today, with its increasing anti-Semitism and rejection of its Christian identity, is that it is dying of a “metaphysical boredom” (David Hart) that creates a spiritual vacuum that is an irresistible invitation to the very demons of the past that it is trying to exorcise.
And, of course, the vacuum is a great opportunity for jihadist Muslims in and near Europe who are anything but metaphysically bored.
That's a great phrase - 'metaphysical boredom" says it all about the self-imposed limits placed by modern Western thought on proper subjects of inquiry by the human mind
[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 29/10/2006 0.08]
| 11/2/2006 1:36 PM
|A few weeks after the Regensburg lecture, Sandro Magister published online in www.chiesa a lengthy excerpt from an almost sentence-by-sentence rebuttal of Benedict XVI's lecture by a Muslim scholar form Libya, Aref Ali Nayed. The only answer to that rebuttal so far has come from Alessandro Martinetti, who chose to answer only Nayed's arguments about God as conceived in Islam. Last week, Magister published both Martinetti's answer as well as Nayed's response to it. Both zre found below
Unbridled will or Logos?
The God of Islam and the Christian God
by Alessandro Martinetti
The commentary by Aref Ali Nayed on Benedict XVI’s “lectio” in Regensburg is stimulating some reflection, in particular on the relationship between God and reason.
“Reason as a gift from God can never be above God. That is the whole point of Ibn Hazm; a point that was paraphrased in such a mutilated way by Benedict XVI’s learned sources. Ibn Hazm, like the Asharite theologians with whom he often contended, did insist upon God’s absolute freedom to act. However, Ibn Hazm did recognize, like most other Muslim theologians that God freely chooses, in His compassion towards His creatures, to self-consistently act reasonably so that we can use our reason to align ourselves with His guidance and directive.
“Ibn Hazm, like most other Muslim theologians, did hold that God is not externally-bound by anything, including reason. However, at no point does Ibn Hazm claim that God does not freely self-commit Himself and honors such commitments Such divine free-self-committing is Qur’anically propounded 'kataba rabukum ala nafsihi al-Rahma' (Your Lord has committed Himself to compassion). Reason need not be above God, and externally normative to Him. It can be a grace of God that is normative because of God’s own free commitment to acting consistently with it.
“A person who believes the last proposition need not be an irrational or un-reasonable human-being, with an irrational or whimsical God! The contrast between Christianity and Islam on this basis is not only unfair, but also quite questionable.
“Granted that the Pontiff is striving to convince a secular university that theology has a place in that reason-based setting. However, this should not go so far as to make God subject to an externally-binding reason. Most major Christian theologians, even the reason-loving [Thomas] Aquinas never put reason above God."
In Nayed’s view, then, Saint Thomas “never put reason above God.” But not placing reason above God is not the same thing as asserting, as Nayed does, that “God is not externally bound by anything, including reason,” and that reason “can be a grace of God that is normative because of God’s own free commitment to acting consistently with it.”
Saint Thomas would never have subscribed to these assertions; on the contrary, he vigorously opposed them. And together with him, the Catholic magisterium does not agree with them, but disputes them. It thus rejects the depiction of a God who “freely chooses, in his compassion towards his creatures, to act reasonably in consistency with himself so that we can use our reason to align ourselves with His guidance and directives.”
If asserting that reason is not normative for God, and that God is consistent with himself only out of a supremely free decision and is not externally bound to reason; if this is the same as asserting – as it seems to me that Nayed does – that God could exist and act in disdain of reason if only he wished to do so by an act of supreme and limitless freedom, then it is opportune to clarify that Thomas, and with him the Catholic magisterium, rejects this conviction, glimpsing in this an irrational voluntarism incompatible with right reason and with the Catholic faith, as the pope himself remarks in his “lectio” in Regensburg:
“In all honesty, one must observe that in the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder this synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit. In contrast with the so-called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which ultimately led to the claim that we can only know God’s 'voluntas ordinata.' Beyond this is the realm of God’s freedom, in virtue of which he could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done. This gives rise to positions which clearly approach those of Ibn Hazn and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. God’s transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind his actual decisions.”
Here Ratzinger is not speaking as an engaged theologian – as many have maintained – in illustrating reckless and audacious theological positions that may be as authoritative as one pleases, but are nevertheless personal; it is, rather, pope Benedict XVI, who judiciously does nothing but restate the consolidated positions of Catholic doctrine, which are enunciated in terms identical to those of John Paul II in the encyclical “Fides et Ratio” in 1998. This text proclaims the universal value of certain rationally knowable and applicable principles, including the principle of non-contradiction: this is a principle that is universal – transcendental, as the philosophers would say – precisely because not even God can violate it:
“Although times change and knowledge increases, it is possible to discern a core of philosophical insight within the history of thought as a whole. Consider, for example, the principles of non-contradiction, finality and causality, as well as the concept of the person as a free and intelligent subject, with the capacity to know God, truth and goodness. Consider as well certain fundamental moral norms which are shared by all. These are among the indications that, beyond different schools of thought, there exists a body of knowledge which may be judged a kind of spiritual heritage of humanity. It is as if we had come upon an implicit philosophy, as a result of which all feel that they possess these principles, albeit in a general and unreflective way. Precisely because it is shared in some measure by all, this knowledge should serve as a kind of reference-point for the different philosophical schools. Once reason successfully intuits and formulates the first universal principles of being and correctly draws from them conclusions which are coherent both logically and ethically, then it may be called right reason or, as the ancients called it, orthós logos, recta ratio” (“Fides et Ratio”, 4).
No less clear and eloquent is this passage from the dogmatic constitution on the Catholic faith from Vatican Council I, “Dei Filius” (IV, DS 3017), cited with clear approval in “Fides et Ratio” in paragraph 53:
“Even if faith is superior to reason there can never be a true divergence between faith and reason, since the same God who reveals the mysteries and bestows the gift of faith has also placed in the human spirit the light of reason. This God could not deny himself, nor could the truth ever contradict the truth”.
The magisterium therefore teaches that God cannot exercise his own freedom in a contradictory way; that is, totally disconnected from the principles of reason: he does not submit himself to these by an arbitrary decree, but because he himself is the non-contradictory foundation of everything that exists. A God who could violate the principle of non-contradiction – such as being, when and if he wishes, indifferently both love and its lack, a merciful creator and a sadistic and brutal butcher, who issues a commandment and can then punish and damn at his discretion those obey his command – this God would be an incomprehensible sphinx, fickle and potentially an enemy of man. He would be a dangerous, omnipotent autocrat who, as the pope stressed in Regensburg, “is not bound even by his own word,” because “nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practise idolatry.”
The God proclaimed by the Catholic Church is, on the other hand – and can be no other way – always and exclusively good, the giver of life and love; redeemer and savior, and never a persecutor; creator, and not a destroyer. He does not take pleasure from suffering or sin, but he can do nothing but place his creatures in the situation in which they can achieve their highest good. He is faithful and consistent – and cannot help but be so – in spite of the infidelity and inconsistency of human beings in the wearisome journey of individual existence and of history. He can not be like this, because “God cannot contravene himself, nor can truth contradict truth.” God cannot be infinite love and also, contradictorily, a limited love that is fickle, intermittent, and opportunistic.
I am not overlooking the fact that much theology, including some found in Catholic circles, is afraid of a God who could not ignore the principle of non-contradiction, positing that a God who could not get around this principle would not be omnipotent, and could not exercise his own love in a supremely free manner. But it is clear what the risks are if the magisterium would adopt the image of a God supremely free to act against reason. It is time to overcome the dead and sterile opposition between a God-Logos who by adhering to the principle of non-contradiction closes himself up in an unassailable rationalistic detachment impermeable to love, and a God-Love, who can at will violate rational principles simply to reinforce his own nature of free love in an absolute and omnipotent manner.
As Benedict XVI teaches in Regensburg, “Not to act with 'logos' is contrary to God’s nature. [...] God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as 'logos' and, as 'logos,' has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf. Certainly, love 'transcends' knowledge and is thereby capable of perceiving more than thought alone (cf. Eph 3:19); nonetheless it continues to be love of the God who is 'logos.' Consequently, Christian worship is 'spiritual' worship in harmony with the eternal Word and with our reason (cf. Rom 12:1).” In short: God is love – Deus caritas est! – precisely in that he is Logos, and he is Logos precisely in that he is love.
Such is the God of the Catholic Church. So it does not seem to me that the Church can agree with Nayed when he asserts that “the contrast between Christianity and Islam on this basis is not only unfair, but also quite questionable.”
If the image of God in Islam as conveyed by Nayed is correct – and I do not intend to address this question, nor to hazard myself in dangerous exercises of Qur’anic exegesis – if, that is “God freely chooses, in his compassion towards his creatures, to act reasonably in consistency with himself,” and if “reason need not be above God, and externally normative to Him. It can be a grace of God that is normative because of God’s own free commitment to acting consistently with it,” then it must be distinctly emphasized that this image of God clashes with the one proclaimed as genuine by the Catholic Church, as the pope theologian clearly explained in Regensburg.
Our God and Your God is One
By Aref Ali Nayed
In response to my commentary on the Lecture of Benedict XVI, Alessandro Martinetti wrote a series of comments under the title: “Will or Logos? The God of Islam and the God of Christianity [Arbitrio o Logos? Il Dio dell’islam e quello cristiano]”. The following notes and extensive quotations constitute a response to some of the important points made by Martinetti.
In developing my notes, and in the hope of achieving mutual understanding, I shall invoke only such sources and arguments that would be deemed authoritative or normative by the Catholic Martinetti. I will strive to show that Martinetti’s own Catholic tradition supports, rather than opposes, a position similar to that of Ibn Hazm and other Muslim theologians as briefly outlined in my commentary.
Starting from the Qur’anic injunction to discuss matters with the people of the Book in the best possible way, and with the Prophetic injunction to speak to people in modes suitable for their ways of reasoning, I shall not appeal, in these notes, to the Qur’an, the Sunnah, or the Islamic tradition, but to Martinetti’s own Christian and philosophic tradition. In my notes I shall strive towards the Qur’anically sought after “common discourse” (kalimatun sawa): common recognition of the One True God.
My guide in these notes is the following Qur’anic aya (29:46):
“Do not argue with the People of the Book but in the best of ways, except with those who have been unjust, and say: ‘we believe in what has been revealed to us, and what has been revealed to you, our God and your God is One, and we are devoted to Him’.”
Of course, my own Asha’rite position is rooted in God’s revelation in the Qur’an and the Sunnah as understood and expounded by the Sunni scholars of the Asha’rite school.
Martinetti’s main strategy is that of undermining my claim that it is unfair and questionable to contrast a purported rational God of Christianity with a purported irrational and whimsical God of Islam.
Martinetti, as is suggested by the title of his comments, counter-claims that the “God of Christianity” contrasts with the “God of Islam”. The God of Christianity is supposedly a “God of logos”, and the God of Islam is supposedly a “God of will”. The aim of my notes is to collapse this false distinction, using Martinetti’s own traditional sources, and to show that his contrast between two different Gods, a rational and a whimsical one, reaffirms yet another polarity in the dubious ‘contrast tables’ discredited in my commentary.
Martinetti basically uses passages in which I tried to briefly make sense of Ibn Hazm’s position, in order to prove that I am putting forth an irrational whimsical God, which he then contrasts with his rational God.
Martinetti is also keen to undermine my claim that the Catholic tradition itself, and especially Thomas Aquinas, does not support the elevation of Reason above God.
He counter-claims that God can not but respect and act according to the rules of Reason, including the “principle of non-contradiction”. Martinetti believes that Aquinas, the Catholic tradition (he especially cites “Fides et Ratio”), and Benedict XVI, all share that counter-claim.
My strategy in these notes consists in two moves:
– strive to show Martinetti that Catholic normative doctrines and documents clearly state that the God of the Muslims and that of the Christians is the very same God, and that his false contrast between “our God” and “your God” is not only unfair, but constitutes a rejection of authoritative (for him) Catholic teachings in this regard;
– strive to show Martinetti that Thomas Aquinas, based on Biblical grounds, does not elevate Reason above God, and that he, to the contrary, holds views that are very close to Ibn Hazm and Asha’rite Muslim theologians. “Fides et Ratio” can also be shown to be in a continuous line with a more accurate reading of Aquinas and close to Asha’rite teachings on Faith and Reason.
It is hoped that my notes will make clear to Martinetti that there is no need to appeal to a normative transcendental Reason, above God, for Muslims to be rational, or for our God to be considered rational. It is hoped that Martinetti will ultimately see that our God is One!
Move I: Catholic normative teachings regarding the worship of the One God in Islam and Christianity
Martinetti, by taking “Fides et Ratio” as authoritative, signals that he is a devout Catholic who should equally uphold, as Pope John Paul II always did, and as Pope Benedict XVI still does, the teachings of the Second Vatican Council (underlining added for emphasis):
“The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting”. (1)
The reaffirmations and clarifications of “Nostra Aetate” by Pope John Paul II:
“Christians and Muslims, we have many things in common, as believers and as human beings. We live in the same world, marked by many signs of hope, but also by multiple signs of anguish. For us, Abraham is a very model of faith in God, of submission to his will and of confidence in his goodness. We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world and brings his creatures to their perfection”. (2)
“As I have often said in other meetings with Muslims, your God and ours is one and the same, and we are brothers and sisters in the faith of Abraham. Thus it is natural that we have much to discuss concerning true holiness in obedience and worship to God.” (3)
“On other occasions I have spoken of the religious patrimony of Islam and of its spiritual values. The Catholic Church realizes that the element of worship given to the one, living, subsistent, merciful and almighty Creator of heaven and earth is common to Islam and herself, and that it is a great link uniting all Christians and Muslims. With great satisfaction she also notes, among other elements of Islam which are held in common, the honour attributed to Jesus Christ and his Virgin Mother”. (4)
The recent reaffirmations of “Nostra Aetate” by Pope Benedict XVI:
“The position of the Pope concerning Islam is unequivocally that expressed by the conciliar document ‘Nostra Aetate’”. (5)
Martinetti’s contrast between the God of Christianity and the God of Islam is in direct violation of the teachings of the last and most authoritative Vatican Council. Given his obvious devotion to Catholic doctrine, Martinetti must reconsider his position.
The Qur’an teaches Muslims to invite the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) to come to a common discourse and to affirm the worship of the One True God. Vatican II teaches Catholics to come to such a common discourse. It is sad to see a Catholic wanting to lapse to pre-Vatican II positions that were not conducive to mutual respect or co-living.
Move II: Thomas Aquinas is not on the side of Martinetti!
Martinetti, without any documentation, claims that Aquinas would never concur with a position similar to the one I attributed to Ibn Hazm. While, I am no Thomist, I dare bring the attention of Martinetti to the following facts.
1. Aquinas affirms, just as most Muslim theologians do, that it is Revelation that is the ultimate and real teacher about God and His ways. Reason must strive to understand, but it is Revelation that saves:
“It was necessary for man's salvation that there should be a knowledge revealed by God besides philosophical science built up by human reason. Firstly, indeed, because man is directed to God, as to an end that surpasses the grasp of his reason: ‘The eye hath not seen, O God, besides Thee, what things Thou hast prepared for them that wait for Thee’ (Isaiah 66:4). But the end must first be known by men who are to direct their thoughts and actions to the end. Hence it was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation. Even as regards those truths about God which human reason could have discovered, it was necessary that man should be taught by a divine revelation; because the truth about God such as reason could discover, would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors. Whereas man's whole salvation, which is in God, depends upon the knowledge of this truth. Therefore, in order that the salvation of men might be brought about more fitly and more surely, it was necessary that they should be taught divine truths by divine revelation. It was therefore necessary that besides philosophical science built up by reason, there should be a sacred science learned through revelation”. (6)
2. Aquinas affirms, just as most Muslim theologians do, that God is omnipotent and that His Power and Will are utterly efficacious:
“God is bound to nobody but Himself. Hence, when it is said that God can only do what He ought, nothing else is meant by this than that God can do nothing but what is befitting to Himself, and just”.
“Although this order of things be restricted to what now exists, the divine power and wisdom are not thus restricted. Whence, although no other order would be suitable and good to the things which now are, yet God can do other things and impose upon them another order”.
3. Aquinas points out the common mistake of subjecting divine acts to natural necessity:
“In this matter certain persons erred in two ways. Some laid it down that God acts from natural necessity in such way that as from the action of nature nothing else can happen beyond what actually takes place – as, for instance, from the seed of man, a man must come, and from that of an olive, an olive; so from the divine operation there could not result other things, nor another order of things, than that which now is. But we showed above that God does not act from natural necessity, but that His will is the cause of all things; nor is that will naturally and from any necessity determined to those things. Whence in no way at all is the present course of events produced by God from any necessity, so that other things could not happen. Others, however, said that the divine power is restricted to this present course of events through the order of the divine wisdom and justice without which God does nothing. But since the power of God, which is His essence, is nothing else but His wisdom, it can indeed be fittingly said that there is nothing in the divine power which is not in the order of the divine wisdom; for the divine wisdom includes the whole potency of the divine power. Yet the order placed in creation by divine wisdom, in which order the notion of His justice consists, as said above, is not so adequate to the divine wisdom that the divine wisdom should be restricted to this present order of things. Now it is clear that the whole idea of order which a wise man puts into things made by him is taken from their end. So, when the end is proportionate to the things made for that end, the wisdom of the maker is restricted to some definite order. But the divine goodness is an end exceeding beyond all proportion things created. Whence the divine wisdom is not so restricted to any particular order that no other course of events could happen. Wherefore we must simply say that God can do other things than those He has done”.
4. Aquinas explains why this mistake is often made:
“In ourselves, in whom power and essence are distinct from will and intellect, and again intellect from wisdom, and will from justice, there can be something in the power which is not in the just will nor in the wise intellect. But in God, power and essence, will and intellect, wisdom and justice, are one and the same. Whence, there can be nothing in the divine power which cannot also be in His just will or in His wise intellect”.
5. Aquinas does teach that objects that are impossible by their very definition can not be done, but that we should still not say that God can not do them:
“Whence, whatsoever has or can have the nature of being is numbered among the absolutely possible things, in respect of which God is called omnipotent. Now nothing is opposed to the idea of being except non-being. Therefore, that which implies being and non-being at the same time is repugnant to the idea of an absolutely possible thing, within the scope of the divine omnipotence. For such cannot come under the divine omnipotence, not because of any defect in the power of God, but because it has not the nature of a feasible or possible thing. Therefore, everything that does not imply a contradiction in terms, is numbered amongst those possible things, in respect of which God is called omnipotent: whereas whatever implies contradiction does not come within the scope of divine omnipotence, because it cannot have the aspect of possibility. Hence it is better to say that such things cannot be done, than that God cannot do them. Nor is this contrary to the word of the angel, saying: ‘No word shall be impossible with God’. For whatever implies a contradiction cannot be a word, because no intellect can possibly conceive such a thing”. (7)
It is noteworthy that Muslim Asha’rite theologians, including Asha’ri himself, upheld a very similar doctrine to that outlined by Aquinas in this regard. The way to avoid what is often called the “paradox of omnipotence” is to hold that things like “unmovable stones”, “squared circles” and “Euclidean triangles with angles adding up to more that 180 degrees” simply can not be. Thus, the question of whether or not an omnipotent God can make them should not even arise. God does not make such things not because of an externally imposed normative “law of non-contradiction” to which he must abide, but simply because such things, by definition, can not be. They do not have what it takes to be not because of a logical contradiction, but because of an ontological failure to be.
Many classical Muslim theologians who argued against the sensibility of the Christian doctrine of trinity used logic very similar to that of Aquinas, but added that the notion of the trinity itself “implies being and non-being at the same time [and] is repugnant to the idea of an absolutely possible thing, within the scope of the divine omnipotence”. “For whatever implies a contradiction cannot be a word, because no intellect can possibly conceive such a thing”. For many classical Muslim theologians, the idea of a “Man-God” was taken to be of the same category as the idea of a “squared circle”. Such ideas, as the phenomenologist Meinong rightly points out, can “subsist” and be referred to, talked about, and even believed in, but can not possibly “exist”.
Of course, despite the authority of Aquinas on things reasonable and logical, Aquinas himself, and the Catholic Church, throughout its history had to preserve a space for ultra-logics that do not fit neatly into the categories of human logics. That is the only way to preserve the authoritative (for them) teachings of Paul and other Christian sages on a “Wisdom of God” that transcends the “Wisdom of the World”. The appeal to such “extra-rationality” is very clear in the authoritative teachings of the Catholic Church. “Fides et Ratio” itself has many passages defending precisely such a position not on the basis of “Reason” but on the basis of “Revelation”.
6. “Fides et Ratio”, just as most Muslim theologians do, reaffirms the normativity of Revelation over Reason:
“Restating almost to the letter the teaching of the First Vatican Council's constitution ‘Dei Filius’, and taking into account the principles set out by the Council of Trent, the Second Vatican Council's constitution ‘Dei Verbum’ pursued the age-old journey of understanding faith, reflecting on Revelation in the light of the teaching of Scripture and of the entire Patristic tradition. At the First Vatican Council, the Fathers had stressed the supernatural character of God's Revelation. On the basis of mistaken and very widespread assertions, the rationalist critique of the time attacked faith and denied the possibility of any knowledge which was not the fruit of reason's natural capacities. This obliged the Council to reaffirm emphatically that there exists a knowledge which is peculiar to faith, surpassing the knowledge proper to human reason, which nevertheless by its nature can discover the Creator. This knowledge expresses a truth based upon the very fact of God who reveals himself, a truth which is most certain, since God neither deceives nor wishes to deceive”. (8)
7. “Fides et Ratio” reaffirms that divine Will can overcome human “habitual patterns of thought”, and that it is not bound by human logic and systems:
“This is why the Christian's relationship to philosophy requires thorough-going discernment. In the New Testament, especially in the Letters of Saint Paul, one thing emerges with great clarity: the opposition between ‘the wisdom of this world’ and the wisdom of God revealed in Jesus Christ. The depth of revealed wisdom disrupts the cycle of our habitual patterns of thought, which are in no way able to express that wisdom in its fullness.
“The beginning of the First Letter to the Corinthians poses the dilemma in a radical way. The crucified Son of God is the historic event upon which every attempt of the mind to construct an adequate explanation of the meaning of existence upon merely human argumentation comes to grief. The true key-point, which challenges every philosophy, is Jesus Christ's death on the Cross. It is here that every attempt to reduce the Father's saving plan to purely human logic is doomed to failure. ‘Where is the one who is wise? Where is the learned? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?’ (1 Corinthians 1:20), the Apostle asks emphatically. The wisdom of the wise is no longer enough for what God wants to accomplish; what is required is a decisive step towards welcoming something radically new: ‘God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise...; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not to reduce to nothing things that are’ (1 Corinthians 1:27-28). Human wisdom refuses to see in its own weakness the possibility of its strength; yet Saint Paul is quick to affirm: ‘When I am weak, then I am strong’ (2 Corinthians 12:10). Man cannot grasp how death could be the source of life and love; yet to reveal the mystery of his saving plan God has chosen precisely that which reason considers ‘foolishness’ and a ‘scandal’.
“The wisdom of the Cross, therefore, breaks free of all cultural limitations which seek to contain it and insists upon an openness to the universality of the truth which it bears. What a challenge this is to our reason, and how great the gain for reason if it yields to this wisdom! Of itself, philosophy is able to recognize the human being's ceaselessly self-transcendent orientation towards the truth; and, with the assistance of faith, it is capable of accepting the ‘foolishness’ of the Cross as the authentic critique of those who delude themselves that they possess the truth, when in fact they run it aground on the shoals of a system of their own devising”. (9)
Of course, based on what we take to be God’s own and final Qur’anic revelation of the truth regarding Jesus (peace be upon him), we Muslims accept God’s judgment that it is not “befitting” to God to have a son or become human. Thus most Muslim theologians deny the doctrines of the incarnation and crucifixion not only on the basis of the philosophical logic concerning impossible objects (as briefly outlined above), but on the basis of divine revelation (or revealed divine logic) that Muslims solemnly hold authentic and true.
Despite the fact that a Muslim, based on the ultimate revelatory authority he or she accepts, must reject the contents of the particular example claimed by “Fides et Ratio” to be a willful rupture of the rules of human reason, the example itself does establish that Catholicism, like Islam, does elevate the freedom and will of God over any limits on them by any external human or transcendental “Reason”. Does that make Catholic teaching irrational, or the Catholic God an irrational God?
One person’s extra-rationality is often another person’s irrationality! It all depends on one’s ultimate criterion. For us Muslims that ultimate criterion (al-furqan) on the doctrine of God, is the Qur’an and the Sunnah. It is pointless, however, for Christians and Muslims to exchange accusations of irrationality based on their contrasting communal experiences of what they take to be extra-rational ruptures of the divine into history. Such a mutually-destructive polemical exchange will only satisfy atheistic secularists who think that religiosity as such is fundamentally irrational. Muslim and Christians must cooperate in staking a place for the extra-rational in a world increasingly dominated by a godless secularist outlook. As pointed out in the beginning of my commentary, Benedict XVI’s just call for an expansion of the notion of Reason so as to accommodate revelatory insights is something that both Christians and Muslims can positively respond to.
Furthermore, having different authoritative revelatory criteria for the doctrine of God does not necessarily mean that we have different Gods. Here it is useful to invoke the important distinction, made by the logician Frege, between “sense” and “reference”. In talking of God, He is our common “reference”, and we are all referring to the very same God. However, in talking of God, we, of course, have different “senses” or ways of understanding and referring to Him (senses and ways that are deeply rooted in our different revelatory traditions and communal experiences).
Perhaps this distinction can help Martinetti see that its is possible for a Muslim and a Christian to worship and talk about the same God, while at the same time solemnly upholding different, and even opposing, senses of Him.
In some areas, as in the upholding of the sovereign Will of God, it is possible for Muslim and Christian theological senses to come very close to each other, in addition to sharing the same reference. In other areas, as in Trinitarian versus Unitarian doctrines, Christian and Muslim theological senses are in clear opposition. Despite such opposition, we must not fall into the temptation of scoffing at, or dismissing, each other. We must, together, keep our hearts and minds focused on Him who is our common reference, and continue to engage each other in a pray-full, reasoned, and peaceful dialectical discussion.
Part of the task of inter-religious dialogue is to invoke the unity of reference in order to make room for the exploration of the diversity of senses. Such exploration can enhance our understandings of the different, and even oppositional senses, we have of the divine. Our own different senses of the divine become clearer as we engage each other in sincere and devout discussion regarding the One God. This is why I am so grateful for Martinetti’s comments. I sincerely hope our discussion will continue.
8. The biblical basis for the affirmation of the sovereignty of the will of God
The above teachings of the Catholic Church regarding the will of God are not at all surprising. The Bible, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, is full of repeated affirmations of the total sovereignty of the will of God. The following passage of Paul (Romans 9:14-26) suffices as an illustration:
“What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? May it never be! For he said to Moses: ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion’. So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I caused you to be raised up, that I might show in you my power, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth’. So then, he has mercy on whom he desires, and he hardens whom he desires. You will say then to me, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who withstands his will?’ But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed ask him who formed it: ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Or hasn't the potter a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel for honor, and another for dishonor? What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath made for destruction, and that he might make known the riches of his glory on vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory, us, whom he also called, not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles? As he says also in Hosea: ‘I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, who was not beloved. It will be that in the place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' there they will be called children of the living God’.”
It is a simple fact that the God of the Bible, just as the God of the Qur’an, cannot be made to fit within the bounds and designs of the human logics of the philosophers (not even within the great logic of Aristotle so revered in both of our traditions by Aquinas and al-Ghazali). It is important to remember the famous words of Pascal in his “Pensées”:
“The God of Christians is not a God who is simply the author of mathematical truths, or of the order of the elements; that is the view of heathens and Epicureans... But the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of Christians, is a God of love and of comfort, a God who fills the soul and heart of those whom He possesses, a God who makes them conscious of their inward wretchedness, and His infinite mercy, who unites Himself to their inmost soul, who fills it with humility and joy, with confidence and love, who renders them incapable of any other end than Himself”. (10)
In one’s apologetic efforts to make room for theology and religion amidst their contemporary secular “cultured despisers”, one must remember the important stark difference so rightly pointed out by Pascal: “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob. Not of the philosophers and intellectuals. Certitude, certitude, feeling, joy, peace!”
If being rational and having a rational God means adopting the God of the philosophers, be it called “Reason” or “Logos”, most Muslim theologians would simply opt to pass! That is why Asha’rite theologians, while always upholding the importance of devout reasoning that is guided by revelation, never accepted the Hellenistic philosophical worship of “Logos” or the “Active Intellect”.
Islam’s devout insistence on the sovereignty of the living God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Ishmael, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them all) must not be cheaply turned against it, with unfair accusations of whimsical irrationality! If properly appreciated such devout Muslim insistence can be a real aid to Christian affirmations of the divine in the face of the atheistically secular.
Let us help each other by overcoming our false “contrast tables”, and by praying for peace and guidance from the One beloved God of all.
God truly knows best!
(1) Declaration of the Second Vatican Council on the Relation of the Church to non-Christian Religions: “Nostra Aetate”. Proclaimed by Paul VI, October 28, 1965.
(2) “Address of John Paul II to Young Muslims”, Morocco, August 19, 1985.
(3) “Address of John Paul II to the Participants in the Colloquium on ‘Holiness in Christianity and Islam’”, May 9, 1985.
(4) “Meeting of John Paul II with the Muslim Leaders”, Nairobi, Kenya, May 7, 1980.
(5) “Statement by Card. Tarcisio Bertone Secretary of State”, September 16, 2006.
(6) Thomas Aquinas, “The Summa Theologica”, Translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Benziger Bros. edition, 1947, First Part, Questions 1-119.
(7) This and other passages are all from the Chapter on the “Power of God” in Thomas Aquinas, “The Summa Theologica”.
(8) John Paul II, Encyclical Letter “Fides et Ratio”, n. 8.
(9) John Paul II, Encyclical Letter “Fides et Ratio”, n. 23.
(10) B. Pascal, “Pensées”, E.P. Dutton & Co., New York, 1958.
© 2006 Aref Ali Nayed
| 11/5/2006 2:41 PM
| The available literature on Tolkien and his works as works of Catholicism is quite extensive. Here is the latest I have come across
FOR DEVOTEES OF TOLKIEN...AND BEAUTY
'The Lord of the Rings is of course
a fundamentally Catholic Work':
Tolkien and St. Thomas on Beauty
By Dr. Michael Waldstein
KATH.NET documents a speech of Dr. Michael Waldstein from 31 October 2006 in Heiligenkreuz (Austria):
When Frodo is at the house of Elrond in Rivendell, having barely escaped the terror of the Black Riders, he encounters a beauty in the music of the Elves that goes far beyond anything he had known in the narrow circles of his life in the Shire.
“At first the beauty of the melodies and of the interwoven words in elven-tongues, even though he understood them little, held him in a spell, as soon as he began to attend to them. Almost it seemed that the words took shape, and visions of far lands and bright things that he had never yet imagined opened out before him; and the firelit hall became like a golden mist above seas of foam that sighed upon the margins of the world. The enchantment became more and more dreamlike, until he felt that an endless river of swelling gold and silver was flowing over him, too multitudinous for its pattern to be comprehended…”
Before the end of the music, Bilbo takes Frodo by the arm with the words, “Not that hobbits would ever acquire quite the elvish appetite for music and poetry and tales. They (the Elves) seem to like them as much as food or more. They will be going on for a long time yet. What do you say to slipping off for some more quiet talk.”
Frodo follows him with regret, just as a single voice begins a new song. “A Elbereth Gilthoniel, silivren penna miriel …” As Frodo leaves, he turns around and sees Arwen and Aragorn standing side by side. “… Arwen turned towards him, and the light of her eyes fell on him from afar and pierced his heart. He stood still enchanted, while the sweet syllables of the elvish song fell like clear jewels of blended word and melody. ‘It is a song to Elbereth,’ said Bilbo. They will sing that, and other songs of the Blessed Realm, many times tonight. Come on!’”
The music of the Elves, though Frodo does not perceive this clearly, echoes a music of much deeper beauty that was sung before Middle-earth existed. In fact, Middle-earth was created and is providentially guided after the pattern of that ancient music.
Tolkien’s book The Silmarillion
, which unfolds some of the stories that stand behind The Lord of the Rings
, speaks about this music. “There was Eru, the One, who in Arda (i.e., earth) is called Ilúvatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught was made. And he spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad.”
A little later, Ilúvatar “… declared to them a mighty theme (of music), unfolding to them things greater than he had yet revealed; and the glory of its beginning and the splendor of its end amazed the Ainur… Then Ilúvatar said to them: ‘Of the theme that I have declared, I will now that ye make in harmony together a Great Music. … But I will sit and hearken, and be glad that through you great beauty has been wakened into song.’ … Never since have the Ainur made any music like to this music, though it has been said that a greater still shall be made before Ilúvatar by the choirs of the Ainur and the Children of Ilúvatar after the end of days.”
Fundamental aesthetic categories are touched upon in this text: beauty is closely related to harmony and splendor or glory and it calls forth the responses of amazement and gladness. Beauty is not an incidental decoration far from the serious purposes of Ilúvatar. It is the very goal of the activity of the Ainur as Ilúvatar describes it.
“I will sit and hearken, and be glad that through you great beauty has been wakened into song.” This statement is Ilúvatar’s own account of the purpose of the Ainur’s activity and therefore most certainly true and fundamental.
According to St. Thomas, “The end is chief in everything; finis est potissimum in unoquoque
.” If you ask the question “why?” about anything, the last and definitive answer, the last and definitive cause, will be the goal or end. “This kind of cause is chief among the other causes: for the final cause is the cause of the other causes.” If beauty is the final cause of the activity of the Ainur, it is truly of the greatest importance.
After the song of the Ainur is completed, Ilúvatar shows them an imaginary world, including Middle-earth, the form and history of which is shaped according to the beauty of the great music they just sang. There are new things in this vision, not contained in the music, above all the “Children of Ilúvatar”. We find out later that these are the Elves and human beings.
“And (the Ainur) saw with amazement the coming of the Children of Ilúvatar … and none of the Ainur had part in their making. Therefore, when they beheld them, the more did they love them, being things other than themselves, strange and free, wherein they saw the mind of Ilúvatar reflected anew, and yet learned a little more of his wisdom…”
There is a rhythm of increase in beauty, “anew” and “more”. In St. Ignatius’s words, all things are “ad majorem dei gloriam
, to the greater glory of God.” Not just great, but greater. The presence of Ilúvatar’s hidden wisdom in the beauty of his plan becomes deeper and more intense.
Ilúvatar next creates a real world patterned after this vision and thus at least in part patterned after the great music of the Ainur. “Therefore I say: Eä! Let these things Be! And I will send forth into the Void the Flame Imperishable, and it shall be at the heart of the world, and the World shall Be … And suddenly the Ainur … knew that this was no vision only, but that Ilúvatar had made a new thing: Eä, the World that Is.”
Amazement and love draws some of the Ainur so deeply into the new world “…that their power should thenceforward be contained and bounded in the World, to be within it for ever, until it is complete, so that they are its life and it is theirs.” The Ainur who bind themselves to the new world in this way are called Valar. They are the “gods” or “guardian angels” of Middle-earth.
The greatest of the Valar are the consorts Manwë and Varda. Varda is the true and ultimate queen of Middle-earth. She plays a central though mostly hidden role in The Lord of the Rings while Manwë is not mentioned at all.
“Of all the Great Ones who dwell in this world the Elves hold Varda most in reverence and love. Elbereth they name her, and they call upon her name out of the shadows of Middle-earth, and uplift it in song at the rising of the stars.” Elbereth, in the language of the Elves, means star-queen.
At the most difficult moment, when he faces the great spider Shelob alone, Sam suddenly cries out words in the Elven language which he himself does not understand, “A Elbereth Gilthoniel / o menel palan-diriel, / le nallon sí di’nguruthos! / A tiron nin, Fanuilos!” In one of his letters, Tolkien translates these words. “Star-queen, who kindled the stars, from heaven gazing afar, to thee I cry now in the shadow of (the fear of) death. O look towards me, Ever-white.”
For a Catholic, which Tolkien certainly was, the echo of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Elbereth is absolutely clear. A Jesuit friend of Tolkien, Fr. Robert Murray, pointed out this similarity. Tolkien wrote in response, “I know exactly what you mean … by your references to Our Lady, upon which all my own small perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity is founded
To summarize: The goal of the singing of the Ainur, a goal given by Ilúvatar himself, is beauty. Beauty is a matter of harmony and splendor or glory. It calls forth the response of amazement and love.
Inasmuch as the music of the Ainur is the pattern according to which Middle-earth is made, beauty is also the purpose or goal of the making of Middle-earth. In its actual reality as created by Ilúvatar, Middle-earth is much greater than that music.
Peopled by rational and free Children of Ilúvatar, it is so glorious and splendid that the Ainur are amazed and fall in love with it. They see in it a new reflection of the wisdom of Ilúvatar. Ad majorem dei gloriam, to the greater glory of God.
In their amazement and love, some of them enter Middle-earth and link their own lives inseparably to this new world, “so that they are its life and it is theirs.” The great paradigm of beauty, who imprints the form of her beauty on Middle-earth as a whole and on its entire history, is Elbereth Gilthoniel.
Tolkien’s own understanding and perception of beauty, of its majesty and simplicity, is founded on his Marian devotion which is reflected in the devotion of the Elves to Elbereth. Here we have a key to reading The Lord of the Rings
Before I turn to The Lord of the Rings
itself to make use of this key in reading it, I want to compare the beginning of the Silmarillion
with St. Thomas to show how deeply Tolkien’s vision is rooted in the Catholic tradition.
In lapidary fashion St. Thomas states, “All things are made, so that they in some way imitate the divine beauty. … Nobody takes care to shape and represent anything, except to (the image of) the beautiful.”
“The multitude and distinction of things has been planned by the divine mind and has been instituted in the real world so that created things would represent the divine goodness in various ways and diverse beings would participate in it in different degrees, so that out of the order of diverse beings a certain beauty would arise in things, a beauty which shows the divine wisdom.”
What, then, is beauty and how does it come to exist in creation? St. Thomas addresses these questions most fully in his commentary on the treatise On the Divine Names
by Denys the Areopagite. “Denys shows what the nature of beauty consists in when he says that God gives beauty inasmuch as he is the cause of harmony and splendor (e?a?µ?st?a? ?a? ???a?a? consonantiae et claritatis) in all things. … Everything is called beautiful inasmuch as it has splendor of its kind, spiritual or bodily and inasmuch as it is made in due proportion.
Denys then shows how God is the cause of splendor by adding that with a certain flash God sends into things a gift of his luminous ray, which is the fountain of all light. These gifts of the flashing divine ray should be understood as a share in likeness (with God) … He also explains the other part, namely, that God is the cause of harmony in things.
There is a twofold harmony in things, the first according to the order of creatures to God and he touches this harmony when he says that God turns all things to himself as to the end … and for this reason the Greek word for beauty, kallos, is related to the word for calling, kaleo.
The second harmony is in things according to their order to each other. He touches this harmony when he says that God gathers all in all to the same.” A little later in the same commentary, St. Thomas adds further detail to this picture.
“All being comes to all beings from the (divine) beauty. Now, splendor belongs to the account of beauty, as Denys said earlier. Thus every form by which a being has being is a certain participation in the divine splendor. … He also said that harmony belongs to the account of beauty so that everything that in some way belongs to harmony comes from the divine beauty.
"This is what he means when he says that the agreements of all rational creatures in respect to the intellect exist because of the divine beauty; and friendships in respect to affection, and communion with respect to acts and anything extrinsic. In general all creatures, to the degree in which they have union, have union from the power of (God’s) beauty.”
Both Tolkien and Denys, followed by St. Thomas, use the same pair of concepts to understand beauty: splendor and harmony. These are the two main attributes of the music of the Ainur which is the pattern of Middle-earth. There is a further point of contact.
Ilúvatar says, “Therefore I say: Eä! Let these things Be! And I will send forth into the Void the Flame Imperishable, and it shall be at the heart of the world, and the World shall Be … And suddenly the Ainur … knew that this was no vision only, but that Ilúvatar had made a new thing: Eä, the World that Is.”
There is particular contact with St. Thomas’s statement, “with a certain flash God sends into things a gift of his luminous ray, which is the fountain of all light … every form by which a being has being is a certain participation in the divine splendor.” The flash of light from God has to do with the very being of the beings of this world. In their very being, the beings of this world are a participation in this flash of light, in the Flame Imperishable
Of course, if one wants to understand anything, one must understand its being. This is the reason why amazement is necessary for understanding. If one is not amazed by the deep fountain of light from which the very being of the beings in this world comes forth, if one has no idea of the rhythm of increase, ad majorem Dei gloriam, then what one understands cannot be the being of the beings in this world
One has reduced that being to some of its aspects, such as mechanical relations as grasped by mathematics. These reduced aspects tend to be in many cases the only thing that natural science focuses on. In the view of many scientists, the world is a huge mechanism determined by mathematical laws.
It is a curious fact that explicit religion plays almost no role in The Lord of the Rings
. The name Ilúvatar or any equivalent name of the creator God is not mentioned even once in the whole book. There are a number of songs that might be called religious, especially those addressed to Elbereth.
The only scene of explicit ritual practice takes place when Faramir, Frodo and Sam eat their first meal together: “Before they ate, Faramir and all his men turned and faced west in a moment of silence. Faramir signed to Frodo and Sam that they should do likewise.
‘So we always do,’ he said, as they sat down: ‘we look towards Númenor that was, and beyond to Elvenhome that is, and to that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be. Have you no such custom at meat?’
‘No,’ said Frodo, feeling strangely rustic and untutored.”
In the letter in which he explains that his perception of beauty, both in majesty and simplicity is founded on the Blessed Virgin Mary, Tolkien speaks about this strange absence of explicit religious content from The Lord of the Rings
[G]“The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion’, to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.“
The reason given by Tolkien is at first sight very strange. The book has nothing religious in it because it is religious and Catholic? One answer to this puzzle lies in Tolkien’s highly effective poetic technique is the great antiquity of the stories, comparable to the stories about the Trojan war and the travels of Odysseus. Explicit Christian contents would bring the story too close into recent history.
Even so, why is the religious aspect of these ancient myths not more explicit? The last sentence of the passage just quoted provides a clue, “The religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.”
Religion in The Lord of the Rings
is not something added to things from the outside, but it lies in the very depths of beings and events. The Lord of the Rings
does not preach a sermon, nor is it a book of theology. It is a piece of fiction the purpose of which is to be beautiful, thus to give joy and delight. In the depth of this beauty one discovers a religious dimension which has a deep kinship with the Catholic faith. Elbereth is not the Virgin Mary, but her beauty is drawn with the sensibility of Marian piety.
In tracing some elements of beauty in these depths of The Lord of the Rings
I now turn to Frodo’s quest, which is clearly a central thread of the entire story. I will first focus on Frodo’s love of the good that is to be achieved in the quest, a great common good. Then I will turn to the providential guidance of the quest by Elbereth.
We meet Frodo immersed in the ordinary life of a Hobbit. Step by step he discovers the significance of the ring he inherited from Bilbo. The ring is not a local matter. It touches the lives of all in Middle-earth. The quest on which this discovery sends him brings him into contact with concerns that are much larger than those that had moved him in the Shire.
His quest is not a merely personal quest. It cannot be understood in terms of pop-psychology as a quest of finding himself. What he finds is much larger than himself and he understands himself more and more as a part of that larger whole. The good of Middle-earth as a whole becomes clear to him as something he comes to love and for which he is willing to walk into death.
Frodo’s task is mainly negative. He must destroy the ring. The positive side of the quest lies in Aragorn. If the ring is destroyed, Aragorn will become king of Gondor at a moment when the presence of Elves in Middle-earth diminishes and human beings come to the fore as the main people that must shape the life of Middle-earth.
Frodo’s quest is therefore defined by a great and noble common good, a political good. This transition of Frodo from a private individual with a small radius of life to one who loves the common good of the kingdom established in Middle-earth is one of the most beautiful events in The Lord of the Rings
. It corresponds to the rhythm of increase found at the beginning of the Silmarillion
, at the very root of Middle-earth. A small story is suddenly enlarged into a story that has greatness, splendor and glory.
The virtue which most defines a Christian, St. Thomas emphasizes again and again, is love (caritas). This love, he argues, is not principally a personal or private virtue. It is principally a political virtue that is defined, not by a personal or private good, but by the common good of a city.
“The philosopher says in Book Eight of the Politics that in order to be a good political person one must love the good of the city. Now when someone is admitted to participation in the good of some city and becomes a citizen of that city, he must have certain virtues in order to do what a citizen must do and to love the good of the city.
"In the same way, when someone is admitted by divine grace to participating in heavenly beatitude, which consists in the vision and enjoyment of God, he becomes, as it were, a citizen and member of that blessed society which is called the heavenly Jerusalem, according to Ephesians 2,19: ‘You are citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.’ Someone who is in this way counted as part of the heavenly city must have certain freely given virtues which are the infused virtues.
"The right exercise of these virtues requires a love of the common good that belongs to the whole society, which is God himself as a good, inasmuch as God is the object of beatitude. Now, one can love the good of some city in two ways: in one way in order that it might be possessed, in another in order that it might be kept and preserved.
"If someone loves the good of some city in order to have and possess it, he is not a good political person, because in this way even a tyrant loves the good of a city, in order to dominate it, which is to love oneself more than the city. He wants this good for himself, not for the city. But to love the good of the city that it might be kept and defended, this is truly to love the city and this makes a person a good political person, inasmuch as one exposes oneself to the danger of death and neglects one’s private good in order to preserve or increase the good of the city.
"In the same way, to love the good that is participated by the blessed, to love it in order to have or possess it does not establish the right relation between a person and beatitude, because even evil persons desire this good.
"But to love that good according to itself, that it may remain and be shared out and that nothing be done against this good, this gives to a person the right relation to that society of the blessed. And this is charity (caritas) which loves God for his sake and the neighbors, who are capable of beatitude, as oneself… Therefore, charity is not only a virtue, but the most potent of all virtues.”
By his love for the common good of Middle-earth, Frodo becomes what St. Thomas would call “a good political hobbit”. His narrow life, his small story among the Hobbits of Hobbiton, turns step by step into a story of splendor and glory, into the story of Middle-earth itself and of the good of Middle-earth. This good of Middle-earth is not realized by Frodo, but by Aragorn. Yet Frodo shares in it and in the glory of its achievement.
The good of Middle-earth to be realized by the return of the king is not the definitive and final good. The Elves are a strong reminder of a longing that goes far beyond Middle-earth. Their time in Middle-earth is drawing to its end. Galadriel does not cling to the good she had realized in Lothlorien. She assents to its disappearance through the destruction of the One Ring. She travels west. The love of the Elves had always been a divided love. On the one hand they love Middle-earth; on the other hand, they long for the West, the dwelling of the Valar, especially of Elbereth.
One of the most poignant scenes of the book takes place when Frodo, Sam and Pippin flee east and are almost captured by a black rider when suddenly high Elves come on the scene on their way west, singing a song to Elbereth. Their song turns aside the black rider at the very last moment. “Snow-white! Snow-white! O Lady clear! / O queen beyond the Western Seas! / O Light to us that wander here / Amid the world of woven trees. … O Elbereth! Gilthoniel! / We still remember, we who dwell / In this far land beneath the trees / Thy starlight on the Western seas.”
Wandering to the West and traversing the great ocean symbolizes the deep religious sense of the Elves, it expresses a longing that cannot be fulfilled by any particular good achieved in Middle-earth, splendid though that good may be.
Not even in the West, where the Valar dwell, do the Children of Ilúvatar find the final end or ultimate common good. The Valar and the Elves are bound to the material universe in which Middle-earth is located, until the end or completion of that universe. What comes at the end of this universe is not clear to them.
Human beings have received a gift from Ilúvatar not granted to the Elves, though it is a partly bitter gift. By their death they leave behind the confines of this world, entering into an immediate relation with what lies beyond it.
In the tale of Arwen and Aragorn, which is told in the Appendix to The Lord of the Rings
, Aragorn’s last words to Arwen immediately before his death are, “In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! we are not bound forever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory. Farewell.” In extreme anguish, Arwen cries out, calling Aragorn by his original name “Estel.” “Estel, Estel!”
This scene is illuminated by a remarkable dialogue about death between the High Elf King Finrod and the human woman Andreth. The dialogue goes back to very early times, before the story of Beren and Luthien, the ancient pattern of the story of Aragorn and Arwen.
Andreth loves an Elf, Finrod’s brother, who loves her in return. It becomes clear to Andreth that she will grow old and die, while her beloved remains young and free from death. The realization leads her to despair.
“‘Have ye then no hope (in the face of death)?’ said Finrod.
‘What is hope?’ Andreth said.
‘An expectation of good, which though uncertain has some foundation in what is known? Then we have none.’
‘That is one thing that men call “hope”,’ said Finrod. ‘Amdir we call it. But there is another which is founded deeper. Estel we call it, that is “trust.” It is not defeated by the ways of the world, for it does not come from experience, but from our nature and first being. If we are indeed the Eruhin, the Children of the One, then He will not suffer himself to be deprived of His own, not by any Enemy, not even by ourselves. This is the last foundation of Estel, which we keep even when we contemplate the End: of all his designs the issue must be for His Children’s joy.’”
It belongs to the profound religious sense of The Lord of the Rings that the final good, the definitive common good, lies beyond the boundaries of this universe and its time
. It is an object of Estel, not knowledge. Estel preserves the rhythm of beauty ad majorem gloriam
. That “Estel” is Aragorn’s original name and also the last word spoken in anguish by Arwen to her dying husband is one of Tolkien’s most beautiful inventions.
Let me now turn to the second way of considering Frodo’s quest, namely, its providential guidance by Elbereth. Commenting on the strange event of Bilbo Baggins finding the One Ring, Gandalf says, “Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.”
Gandalf had made a similar point, with half ironic humor, at the very end of The Hobbit
“‘Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!’ said Bilbo.
‘Of course,’ said Gandalf. ‘And why should not they prove true? Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!’
‘Thank goodness,’ said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco jar.”
There is a providence at work in Frodo’s quest and many signs indicate that Elbereth is the one most proximately responsible for this providence.
It is highly significant that this providence chooses the small and insignificant to bring about its great results. There is one great military victory against Sauron on the Pelennor Fields before the walls of Minas Tirith, but the final victory is not a military one. In fact, as Frodo’s quest nears completion, the main goal of Gandalf’s military strategy is to set up a screen, to draw Sauron’s attention away from Frodo, Sam and Gollum, who are slowly approaching Mount Doom.
Despite the growth of a love for the common good of Middle-earth, which so deeply ennobles Frodo, he is not able to complete the quest. When he arrives at the cracks of doom, he does not throw the ring in to destroy it, but claims it as his own. The pressure of the ring is simply too overpowering. The one who saves the quest at this decisive moment is Gollum.
In one of his letters Tolkien explains this turn of events by the petition in the Our Father, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
In the long conversation between Frodo and Gandalf at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings
Frodo says about Gollum, “What a pity that Bilbo did not strike that vile creature, when he had a chance!”
Gandalf answers, “Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.”
When Frodo remonstrates that Gollum deserves death, Gandalf answers, “Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. … My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many—yours not least.”
When he has his first chance of killing Gollum, Frodo hears these words clearly, coming from far off. He then says, “Now that I see him, I do pity him.”
Deep down in the very nature of the universe and its history one fundamental principle is at work: mercy is answered by mercy. What wins the victory in the end is mercy, mercy given in answer to mercy.
Mercy is closely connected with Elbereth since she is the one who proximately exercises providence over Middle-earth. In the Salve Regina, the Blessed Virgin Mary is called mater misericordiae
, mother of mercy. Of course, ultimately mercy must go back to Ilúvatar himself. He must be of this sort, if indeed the principle of mercy is so deeply written into his creation.
“God of mercy and compassion” — this is what Moses hears when God passes by him in his majesty and glory (Exodus 34:6-7).
When he unfolds the statement “all ways of the Lord are mercy” (Psalm 25:10) St. Thomas argues, “In every work of God, mercy appears as its first root. The power of this root is preserved in all works that follow. It is at work even more intensely in these (latter works), just as a first cause flows more intensely into (its effect) than a secondary cause.”
Gandalf has a deep sense of the principle of mercy and it is communicated supernaturally to Frodo at a decisive moment.
The principle of mercy lends a very specific kind of beauty to the whole story. It lends a feminine and Marian atmosphere to it. What radiates in the story is not the splendor of the god Mars, the masculine splendor of military victory, but the splendor of Elbereth, whose emblem are the stars, not the sun.
There is a final gentleness that rules events, the gentleness of mercy. There is a final simplicity of the cosmic order, the simplicity of one principle, mercy. Yet again, we can see the truth of Tolkien’s claim that his own perception of beauty in its majesty and simplicity is founded on the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The first purpose of The Lord of the Rings, as Tolkien never tires to repeat in his letters, is to entertain, to give delight by the beauty of the story. Still, a consequence of this first purpose is the sharpening of our eyes for the profound truth of our own world.
Amazement is the only rational response to Middle-earth as Tolkien portrays it. Amazement is also the only rational response to our own real world, since it is like Middle-earth in its deep structures.
There is an old Latin proverb quoted several times by St. Thomas: ubi amor, ibi oculus, where there is love, there is an eye.
Amazement and love for beauty are not emotions that are distant from the serious attempt of understanding our world. They work like a lens or a telescope. They bring the deep structures of the world closer to our eyes and allow us to understand.
For such understanding, beauty is not an incidental decorative addition, but close to the very heart of intelligibility, because it is the end the creator has in mind. “The end is chief in everything; finis est potissimum in unoquoque.”
“The multitude and distinction of things has been planned by the divine mind … so that out of the order of diverse beings a certain beauty would arise in things, a beauty which shows the divine wisdom.”
Dr. Walstein, who earned his Doctorate in Theology from Harvard, is currently Senior Professor and Professor of New Testament at the International Theological Institute in Gaming, Austria. He is a member of the Pontifical Academy on the Family and earned a degree, summa cum laude, from the Pontifical Institute of Biblical Studies
[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 05/11/2006 14.54]
| 11/27/2006 11:55 AM
| Sandro Magister, writing today about Pope Benedict XVI's coming book on Jesus contrasts it with a recent 'best-selling' Italian book that focuses on the 'historical Jesus' such as referred to by the Pope in his preface for the book.
SAMPLE OF THE 'HISTORICAL JESUS'
He posted the following English translation of a book review published in the 11/18/06 edition of Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian bishops conference newspaper, by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical household.
Corrado Augias, Mauro Pesce
“Inchiesta su Gesù. Chi era l’uomo che ha cambiato il mondo
[The Jesus Inquest: Revealing the Man Who Changed the World]”
Mondadori, Milan, 2006, 263 pp., 17 euros.
An inquest on Jesus
that doesn‘t resolve his true mystery
by Raniero Cantalamessa
The “Da Vinci Code” hurricane from Dan Brown didn’t pass by in vain. In its wake are flourishing, as always happens in these cases, new studies on the figure of Jesus of Nazareth, with the intention of uncovering his real face, hidden until now beneath the shroud of ecclesiastical orthodoxy. Even those who, in their words, distance themselves from this intention show that they are influenced by it on a number of levels.
It seems to me that the book by Corrado Augias and Mauro Pesce, “Inchiesta su Gesù. Chi era l’uomo che ha cambiato il mondo"
[The Jesus Inquest: Revealing the Man Who Changed the World]” follows this trend. As is natural, there are differences between these two authors, between the journalist and the historian.
But I don’t want to fall myself into the error that, more than any other in my view, compromises this “inquest” on Jesus: that of taking into account only and always the differences among the evangelists, and never the similarities
. So I will begin with what the two authors, Augias and Pesce, have in common.
The basic hypothesis: the authentic Jesus is not the one preached by the Church
It can be summed up in this way: At the beginning, there existed not one, but various Christianities. One of these versions rose to prominence over the others; it established the canon of Sacred Scriptures according to its own point of view, and imposed itself as orthodoxy, relegating the others to the rank of heresy and obliterating their memory.
But today, thanks to new discoveries of texts and a rigorous application of the historical method, we can reestablish the truth and at last present Jesus of Nazareth as who he really was and who he understood himself to be, which is something totally different from what the various Christian Churches have so far pretended that he was.
No one contests the right of historians to approach the figure of Christ independently from the Church’s faith. That is what criticism, on the part of believers and non-believers, has been doing for at least three centuries with the most refined instruments.
The question is whether the current “inquest” on Jesus really does gather, albeit in a popularized form accessible to the masses, the results of this work, or whether it instead departs in a radical direction within this, ending up as a partisan reconstruction.
I believe that, unfortunately, the latter is the case. The thread selected is the one that runs from Reimarus to Voltaire, to Renan, to Brandon, to Hengel, and today to literary critics and “professors of humanity” like Harold Bloom and Elaine Pagels.
Entirely absent is the contribution from the major biblical exegesis, Protestant and Catholic, that has developed since the second world war in response to the thesis of Rudolf Bultmann: this exegesis is much more positive on the possibility of getting to the historical Jesus through the Gospels.
As an example, Raymond Brown (“the most distinguished among the American scholars of the New Testament, with few rivals at the worldwide level” according to The New York Times
) has published a work of 1,608 pages on the accounts of the passion and death of Jesus.
This work has been described by specialists in the field as “the standard against which all future studies of the Passion will be measured,” but there is no trace of such study in the chapter dedicated to the reasons for the condemnation and death of Christ, nor does it figure in the final bibliography, which nevertheless cites various titles of English-language works.
To the selective use of studies corresponds a likewise selective use of sources. The Gospel accounts are judged as later adaptations when they clash with the hypothesis of Augias and Pesce, and as historical when they agree with it
. Even the resurrection of Lazarus, although it is attested to only by John, is taken into consideration if it serves to ground the hypothesis of the motivations of politics and public order in the arrest of Jesus.
The apocryphal Gospels, an alternative source
But let’s come to a more direct discussion of the book’s fundamental hypothesis. First of all, let’s look at the discoveries of new texts that are thought to have modified the historical context of the origins of Christianity.
These discoveries are essentially a few apocryphal Gospels found in Egypt in the middle of the last century, above all the Nag Hammadi codices. Augias and Pesce carry out a rather subtle procedure on these: they place as late as possible the date of the composition of the canonical Gospels, and place as early as possible the composition of the apocryphal ones, so as to be able to use the latter as valid alternative sources to the former
But here one runs into a wall that is not easy to climb: no canonical Gospel (not even that of John, according to modern criticism) can be dated to after the year 100 A.D., and no apocryphal Gospel can be dated to before that year (the boldest scholars arrive, through conjecture, at dating them to the beginning of the third century, or the middle of the second century). All of the apocrypha draw upon or presuppose the canonical Gospels; no canonical Gospel draws from or presupposes any of the apocryphal Gospels
To take the example most in vogue now, that of the 114 sayings of Christ in the Gospel of Thomas, 79 of these have parallels in the three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), and 11 are variants of the synoptic parables. Only three parables are not attested to elsewhere.
Augias, in the wake of Elaine Pagels, thinks this chronological gap between the canonical Gospels and the Gospel of Thomas can be closed, and it is instructive to see how he attempts to do this. In the Gospel of John we witness, according to Augias, a clear attempt to discredit the apostle Thomas, a real persecution against him, comparable to the one against Judas. The proof: the insistence upon the unbelief of Thomas. Hypothesis: was it by coincidence that the author of the fourth Gospel wanted to discredit the doctrines that were already circulating under the name of the apostle Thomas, and that would later be collected in the Gospel that bears his name?
This is how the chronological gap is overcome. And thus it is forgotten that the evangelist John placed upon the lips of Thomas the most moving declaration of love for Christ (“Let us go die together with him”) and the most solemn profession of faith in him: “My Lord and my God!”, which, according to many exegetes, constitutes the pinnacle of the fourth Gospel.
If Thomas was persecuted by the canonical Gospels, what can be said of poor Peter, and all the things that are told of him? Unless this was done in his case, too, to discredit the future apocrypha that would bear his name...
But the point that most contradicts the theses of Augias and Pesce is not that of the dating of the apocryphal Gospels, but that of their contents. These state exactly the opposite of that for which their authority is invoked.
The two authors maintain the thesis of a Jesus fully immersed within Judaism, who did not intend any innovations with respect to this. But all of the apocryphal Gospels, some more and some less, profess a violent rupture with the Old Testament, turning Jesus into the revealer of a different and higher God.
The reevaluation of the figure of Judas in the apocryphal Gospel by the same name is explained according to this logic: with his betrayal, he would help Jesus to free himself from the last residue of the creator God, the body. The positive figures of the Old Testament become negative for these Gospels, and the negative ones, like Cain, become positive.
Jesus is presented in the book by Augias and Pesce as a man who was only elevated to the rank of God later by the Church; the apocryphal Gospels, on the other hand, present a Jesus who is true God, but not true man, having only taken on the appearance of a body (docetism).
For the apocryphal Gospels, the divinity of Christ is not problematic, but his humanity is. Are we willing to follow them along this path
The list of the mistaken uses of the apocryphal Gospels could be extended. Dan Brown, in “The Da Vinci Code,” bases himself upon them to support the idea of a Jesus who exalts the feminine principle, doesn’t have problems with sex, marries the Magdalene... And to prove this, he relies upon the Gospel of Thomas, where it says instead that, if she wishes to save herself, woman must cease to be a woman, and become a man!
The fact is that the apocryphal Gospels, and in particular those of Gnostic origin, were not written with the intention of narrating facts or historical sayings about Jesus, but for the purpose of advancing an esoteric view of God, man, and the world. To base oneself upon them in order to reconstruct the history of Jesus is like basing oneself upon “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” to understand, not the thought of Nietzsche, but that of Zarathustra
For this reason, although almost all the apocryphal Gospels were already known in the past, at least to a great extent, no one had ever thought of using them as sources of historical information about Jesus. It is only our media-saturated age, in its breathless search for sensational and lucrative novelties, that is doing so.
There certainly are historical sources on Jesus outside of the canonical Gospels, and it is strange that these have practically been left out of this “inquest.” The first of these is Paul, who wrote less than thirty years after the death of Christ and after having been his fierce opponent. Only his testimony with regard to the resurrection is discussed – but that’s in order to discredit it.
And yet, are there any essential elements of the faith and of the “dogmas” of Christianity that are not already found (substantially, if not formally) in Paul? Can one, for example, define the contrast between Jesus and the Pharisees – and the legalistic mentality of a group of these – as unhistorical and the result of a later concern not to alarm the Roman authorities, without taking into account that Paul had been a Pharisee, and for this very reason had fiercely persecuted the Christians? But I will return to this further on in speaking of the Passion.
Jesus, the Jew, didn‘t found any sort of Christianity
I come now to the main point of the theses of the two authors
. Jesus was a Jew, not a Christian; he did not intend to found any new religion; he considered himself sent only for the Jews, and not for the pagans; “Jesus is much closer to the religious Jews of today than to the Christian priests”; Christianity “was born in the second half of the second century
How can the last of these assertions be reconciled with the statement in the Acts of the Apostles (11:26) according to which, not more than seven years after the death of Christ, around the year 37, “it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians”?
Between 111 and 113, Pliny the Younger (an unexpected source!) speaks repeatedly of the “Christians,” describing their life, their worship, and their faith in Christ “as in a God.”
Around those same years, Ignatius of Antioch speaks no fewer than five times of Christianity as distinct from Judaism, writing: “It is not Christianity that believed in Judaism, but Judaism that believed in Christianity” (Letter to the Magnesians, 10:3).
In Ignatius – that is, at the beginning of the second century – we find not only the names “Christian” and “Christianity,” but also the substance of these: faith in the full humanity and divinity of Christ, the hierarchical structure of the Church (bishops, presbyters, deacons), and even an early and clear reference to the primacy of the bishop of Rome, “called to preside in charity.”
And besides this, even before the name “Christian” entered into common usage, the disciples were conscious of their particular identity, and expressed this with terms such as “believers in Christ,” “those of the way,” or “those who invoke the name of the Lord Jesus.”
But among the assertions of Augias and Pesce to which I have just referred, there is one that deserves to be taken seriously and discussed separately: “Jesus did not intend to found any new religion. And he remained a Jew.”
That’s perfectly true. In fact, strictly speaking not even the Church considers Christianity a “new” religion. This is considered, together with Israel (it was once wrongly said “in the place of Israel”) the heir of the monotheistic religion of the Old Testament, both adorers of the same God “of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
After Vatican Council II, dialogue with Judaism was not carried forward by the Vatican office that deals with interreligious dialogue, but by the office that concerns itself with Christian unity.
The New Testament is not an absolute beginning; it is the “fulfillment” (a fundamental category) of the Old. Besides, no religion was born because somebody had the intention of “founding it.” Did Moses intend to found the religion of Israel, or did Buddha intend to found Buddhism? Religions emerged and became aware of themselves as such later on, with those who gathered the thought of a Master and made of this a rule of life.
But even with this clarification having been made, can one truly say that there is nothing in the Gospel that gives the idea that Jesus had the conviction of being the bearer of a new message? And what about his antitheses – “You have heard it said... but I say to you” – with which he reinterprets even the ten commandments, and places himself on the same level as Moses? These fill an entire section of the Gospel of Matthew (5:21-48) – of the same evangelist, that is, who is used in the book to assert the complete Jewishness of Christ!
Jesus intended to give life to a community, and foresaw that his life and his teaching would have a continuation: the indisputable fact of the election of the twelve apostles seems to confirm precisely this.
Even leaving aside the great mandate (“Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature,” the formulation of which some might attribute to the post-resurrection community), there is no other explanation for all those parables whose original nucleus contains precisely the perspective of a mission to all peoples.
One thinks of the parable of the murderous tenders of the vineyard, of the workers in the vineyard, of the saying about the last being first, about the many who “will come from the East and from the West to sit at table with Abraham” while others will be left out, and countless other sayings...
Jesus never left the land of Israel during his life, apart from a few brief stops in the pagan territories of the North, but this is explained through his conviction that he had been sent in the first place to Israel, in order to prompt the Jewish people, once they had converted, to welcome among them all peoples, according to the universalist perspectives proclaimed by the prophets.
This is very curious: there is an entire thread of modern Jewish thought (F. Rosenzweig, H. J. Schoeps, W. Herberg) according to which Jesus is thought not to have come for the Jews, but only for the other nations, for the Gentiles; but according to Augias and Pesce, he came only for the Jews, and not for the Gentiles.
Pesce should receive credit for not accepting the dismissal of the historicity of the institution of the Eucharist and its importance in the primitive community. This is one of the points at which there emerges the inconvenience referred to at the beginning: that of taking into account only differences, and never similarities.
The three Synoptics and Paul unanimously attest to the event with almost the very same words, but for Augias, this counts less than the fact that the institution of the Eucharist is passed over by John, and that, in referring to it, Matthew and Mark have “This is my blood,” while Paul and Luke have “This is the cup of the new covenant in my blood.”
The words of Christ “Do this in memory of me,” pronounced on that occasion, hearken back to Exodus 12:14, and demonstrate the intention of giving new meaning to the “memorial” of the Passover. It is not for nothing that Paul would speak shortly thereafter of “our Passover” (1 Corinthians 5:7), as distinct from that of the Jews.
If to the Eucharist and the Passover one adds the incontrovertible fact of the existence of Christian baptism, gradually replacing circumcision and beginning immediately after Easter, we then have the essential elements to be able to speak, if not of a new religion, then of a new way to live the religion of Israel.
As for the canon of the Scriptures, Pesce is correct in asserting that the definitive list of the present twenty-seven books of the New Testament was fixed only with Athanasius in 367, but one should not overlook that fact that its essential nucleus, composed of the four Gospels plus the thirteen Pauline letters, is much older. It was formed around the year 130. And at the end of the second century, it already enjoyed the same authority as the Old Testament, as evidenced by what is called the “Muratorian fragment.”
The book by Augias and Pesce states: “Paul as well, like Jesus, was not a Christian, but a Jew who remained within Judaism.” This is also true. Does he not say himself, “Are they Hebrews? So am I... I am even more so”? But this does nothing but confirm what I have just explained about faith in Christ as the “fulfillment” of the law.
On the one hand, Paul felt himself to be in the very heart of Israel (of the “remnant of Israel,” as he himself would state), but on the other he separated himself from it (from the Judaism of his time) by his attitude toward the law and his doctrine of justification through grace. As for the thesis of a Paul who was “a Jew, and not a Christian,” it would be interesting to hear what the Jews themselves think about this...
Jesus was killed for political reasons, by the Romans
The chapter in the book by Augias and Pesce on the trial and condemnation of Christ deserves a separate discussion. The thesis they support is not new; it began to circulate following the tragedy of the Holocaust and has been adopted by those who, during the 1960’s and ‘70’s, defended the thesis of Jesus as a zealot and a revolutionary.
According to this thesis, responsibility for the death of Jesus lies mainly, and perhaps even exclusively, with Pilate and the Roman authorities, which indicates that its motivation was more political than religious in nature. The Gospels acquitted Pilate, and laid the blame with the Jewish leaders in order to put the Roman authorities at ease toward Christianity and gain their friendship.
This thesis emerged from a rightful concern that we all share today: to pull up by the roots any pretext for the anti-Semitism that has brought so much suffering to the Jewish people on the part of Christians.
But the greatest wrong one can do to a just cause is to defend it with mistaken arguments. The struggle against anti-Semitism must be placed upon a foundation more solid than a disputable (and disputed) interpretation of the accounts of the Passion.
The freedom of the Jewish people as such from responsibility for the death of Christ rests upon a biblical certainty that Christians share with the Jews, but which, unfortunately, has been forgotten for many centuries: “Only the one who sins shall die. The son shall not be charged with the guilt of his father, nor shall the father be charged with the guilt of his son” (Ezekiel 18:20). The doctrine of the Church acknowledges only one sin transmitted from father to son, original sin, and no other.
With this solid rejection of anti-Semitism in place, I would like to explain why one cannot accept the thesis of the total exemption of the Jewish authorities from responsibility for the death of Christ, and thus of the essential political nature of this death.
In the oldest of his letters, written around the year 50, Paul gives fundamentally the same version of the condemnation of Christ as found in the Gospels. He says that “the Jews put Jesus to death” (1 Thessalonians 2:15), and, having once approved and “fiercely” defended the condemnation of the Nazarene, he must have been better informed than we moderns about the events that had taken place in Jerusalem shortly before his arrival in the city.
During this older phase, Christianity was still considered as intended primarily for Israel; the communities in which the first oral traditions were formed, later being incorporated into the Gospels, were mostly composed of converted Jews; Matthew, as Augias and Pesce also note, is preoccupied with showing that Jesus came to fulfill the law, and not to abolish it.
So if there was any apologetic preoccupation, this should have induced the presentation of the condemnation of Jesus as the work of the pagans, rather than that of the Jewish authorities, for the purpose of reassuring the Jews in Palestine and those of the diaspora with regard to the Christians.
On the other hand, when Mark and the other evangelists wrote their Gospels, the persecution by Nero had already taken place; this would have fostered seeing Jesus as the first victim of Roman power, and the Christian martyrs as those who suffered the same fate as their Master. There is confirmation of this in Revelation, written after the persecution by Domitian, in which Rome is made the object of scalding invective (“Babylon,” the “Beast,” the “whore”) on account of the blood of the martyrs (cf. Revelation 13 ff.).
Pesce is correct in finding an “anti-Roman tendency” in the Gospel of John, but John is also the one who most accentuates the responsibility of the Sanhedrin and of the Jewish leaders in the trial of Christ: how can these be reconciled?
The accounts of the Passion cannot be read while ignoring everything that comes before them. The four Gospels attest – one could say they do so on every page – to a growing religious conflict between Jesus and an influential group of Jews (Pharisees, teachers of the law, scribes) on the observance of the Sabbath, on attitudes toward sinners and tax collectors, on what is clean and unclean. Joachim Jeremias has demonstrated the anti-Pharisaic motivation present in almost all of Jesus’ parables.
The Gospel account is all the more believable in that the contrast with the Pharisees is not at all biased or generalized. Jesus has friends among them (Nicodemus is one); we sometimes find him eating at one of their homes; they are at least willing to have discussions with him and take him seriously, unlike the Sadducees.
And so without ruling out the idea that the later situation contributed to deepening the division even further, it is impossible to eliminate all contrast between Jesus and an influential part of the Jewish leadership of his day without completely dismantling the Gospels and making them historically incomprehensible. The ferocity of the Pharisee Saul against the Christians did not come out of nowhere, and he hadn’t just brought it along with him from Tarsus!
But once the existence of this contrast has been demonstrated, how can one think that it didn’t play any role at all at the moment of the final rendering of accounts, and that the Jewish authorities decided to denounce Jesus to Pilate solely out of fear of an armed Roman intervention, and almost against their own wishes?
Pilate was certainly not a person sensitive to reasoning from justice, such that he would be concerned about the fate of an obscure Jew; he was a hard and cruel man, ready to drown in blood even the slightest inkling of a revolt. All of this is perfectly true.
But he did not try to save Jesus out of compassion for the victim, but only out of spite toward his accusers, with whom he had been conducting a heedless war since his arrival in Judea. Naturally, this does not at all diminish Pilate’s responsibility in the condemnation of Christ, which lies with him no less than with the Jewish leaders.
It is not the case, above all, of wanting to be “more Jewish than the Jews.” One thing emerges from the accounts of Jesus’ death found in the Talmud and other Jewish sources (as late and historically contradictory as they may be): Jewish tradition never denied the participation of the religious authorities at the time in the condemnation of Christ
This tradition did not found its defense upon a denial of this fact, but if anything upon denying that this constituted a crime from the Jewish point of view, or that his condemnation was unjust. This version is compatible with the New Testament sources, which, although they bring to light the participation of the Jewish authorities (and perhaps of the Sadducees even more than of the Pharisees) in the condemnation of Christ, also frequently excuse this, attributing it to ignorance (cf. Luke 23:34; Acts of the Apostles 3:17; 1 Corinthians 2:8). This is the conclusion at which Raymond Brown also arrives, in his 1608-page book on “The Death of the Messiah.”
Jesus and war
A marginal note should be made on a rather delicate point. According to Augias, Luke attributes these words to Jesus: “Now as for those enemies of mine who did not want me as their king, bring them here and slay them before me” (Luke 19:27) and comments by saying “It is phrases like these that are the resort of supporters of ‘holy war’ and of the armed struggle against unjust regimes.”
It must be clarified that Luke does not attribute these words to Jesus, but to the king in the parable that he is narrating, and of course one cannot transfer in their entirety all of the details from a parable to reality, and in any case, these should be transferred on the spiritual rather than on the material level.
The metaphorical sense of these words is that accepting or rejecting Jesus is not without consequences; it is a matter of life and death, but spiritual rather than physical life and death. Holy war doesn’t have anything to do with it
Jesus and sex
I end my critical interpretation with some concluding reflections. I do not share many of Pesce’s views, but I respect them in acknowledging their rightful place in historical research. Many of them (about Jesus’ attitudes toward politics, the poor, children, the importance of prayer in life) are even enlightening.
Some of the problems raised – the place of Jesus’ birth, the question of his brothers and sisters, the virgin birth – are objective, and are discussed even among believing historians (but the last of these not among Catholics), but they are not problems upon which the Church’s Christianity stands or falls.
Less justified in an historical “inquest” on Jesus, it seems to me, is the care with which Augias collects all of the insinuations about the presumed homosexual bonds existing among the disciples, or between Jesus and “the disciple whom he loved” (but wasn’t he supposed to be in love with the Magdalene?), as also the detailed description of the sordid episodes of some of the women in the genealogy of Christ. One has the impression that this inquest on Jesus sometimes turns into gossip about Jesus.
But the phenomenon has an explanation. There has always existed the tendency to dress Christ in the clothing of one’s own time or one’s own ideology. In the past, as arguable as they were, there were serious causes of great depth: Christ as idealist, socialist, revolutionary...
Our age, which is obsessed with sex, is unable to think of him except in relation to emotional problems. I believe that the combination of an openly alternative journalistic outlook together with an historical view that is also radical and minimalistic has produced a result that is on the whole unacceptable, not only for the man of faith, but also for the historian.
Another mystery about “the man who changed the world”
In the final reading one can pose the question: how was it that Jesus, who brought absolutely nothing new with respect to Judaism, who did not want to found any new religion, who didn’t work any miracles and did not rise from the dead except in the addled minds of his followers – how was it, I ask, that he became “the man who changed the world”
A certain form of criticism begins with the intention of removing the trappings placed upon Jesus of Nazareth by ecclesiastical tradition, but in the end it shows itself so corrosive as to dissolve even the person beneath them.
By virtue of dissipating the “mysteries” about Jesus in order to reduce him to an ordinary man, one ends by creating a mystery that is even more inexplicable
In speaking of the resurrection of Christ, Charles H. Dodd, a great English exegete, says: “The idea that the imposing edifice of the history of Christianity is like an enormous pyramid balanced upon an insignificant fact is certainly less credible than the assertion that the entire event – and that also means the most significant fact within this – really did occupy a place in history comparable to the one that the New Testament attributes to it.”
Does faith influence historical research? Undeniably it does, at least to a certain extent. But I believe that unbelief influences it to an enormously greater extent
. If one approaches the figure of Christ and the Gospels as a non-believer (and this seems to be the case with Augias at least), the essential is already decided at the start: the virgin birth can be nothing but a myth, the miracles are the result of suggestion, the resurrection is the product of an “altered state of consciousness,” and so forth.
But one thing nevertheless consoles us and permits us to continue respecting each other and to pursue dialogue: if faith divides us, “good faith” brings us together. The two authors state that they wrote the book in good faith, and I affirm that it is in good faith that I have read and discussed it.
WHEW! After being shown the authors' many internal contradictions, selective sourcing and overall manipulation of fact and presentation to fit their preconceived notions about the 'historical' Jesus, one is even more impatient than ever to read the Pope's book.
Father Cantalamessa's rebuttal of Pesce and Augias is so systematic, well-organized and clearly stated one almost feels one had read the book alongside him!
[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 10/12/2006 7.34]
| 12/10/2006 11:15 AM
Sandro Magister has posted two articles relating to the above Jesus book by Augias and Pesce, but only in Italian. I will translate them when I can.
The first is a rebuttal by Pesce of some of the points made by Fr. Cantalamessa, and the article is entitled "To diffuse the exegetic debate over Jesus is a necessity today."
The second is an article in La Civilta Cattolica
by Jesuit Fr. Giuseppe de Rosa calling the book "An attack against the Christian faith."
Apparently, the book is written in the form of a Q&A between Augias, a journalist who is also an atheist, and Pesce, a professor at the University of Bologna who is also a scholar on the Gospels, the Pauline letters and the history of primitive Christianity. [It beats me why a non-believer would even choose these fields of scholarship, except to be able to deconstruct that which he does not believe in!]
My initial comment on Pesce's rebuttal is outrage that he interprets Fr. Cantalamessa's review of his book this way: "I read in Fr. Cantalamessa's article a strong fear that exposing the Christian reader to historical exegesis may damage his faith
." Then he goes on to ask, "What kind of faith is it if it vacillates in the face of a book of historical exegesis?"
Obbviously, Pesce's idea of Cantalamessa's review merely reveals his anti-Christian bias, and his pointed question on the heels of that assumption not only reinforces his epxression of bias but also has an element of contempt, or at the very least, scorn for Christianity.
And the first point he chooses to rebut is that Cantalamessa said he, Pesce, was 'in the wake of Dan Brown' - which is already an obvious and deliberate misreading, because Cantalamessa said that in the wake of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code
, many studies are flourishing that seek to question the Jesus of the Gospels, and that Pesce's book is one of such. He was obviously referring to the books, not the authors.
Pesce is outraged that he is being compared to Brown (his misreading) because he claims he denounces Brown's book as 'fantasies' in the book on Christ, and that 'no professional exegete ever gave credence' to any of Brown's fantasies.
Well, that gives you an idea of how tortuous his other rebuttals are...
Fr. de Rosa's critique rests on his summing-up of the Augias-Pesce book this way: "The book claims that Christianity has falsified the figure of Jesus by 'christianizing' him, making him what he was not. This would therefore mean that everything the Christian faith professes about Jesus is false."
The basic fact that Augias and Pesce peddle is that Jesus was just a man, and was in no way God, nor did he think of himself as God or the Son of God! But that is what the non-Christian religions have always done, Judaism and Islam most especially. So why does Pesce think that historical exegesis will shake the
Church which has prevailed despite the un-belief of Jews and Muslims that Jesus is God?
Well, the anti-Christians may write all they want and 'exegesize' all they can - they will never sell, not even
Dan Brown, a fraction of the sales of the Bible over the centuries since printing was invented [very significant that the first book ever printed was the Bible, in fact!] and continues to sell every year.
While all those who buy the Bible certainly must believe in Christ as God (except scholars like Pesce whose only interest is literally academic, but how many of them are there? A handful at best!], do they necessarily lead Christian lives because they read the Bible? Almost certainly, not all of them, but I must admit I am in awe of anyone who has a Bible and reads it regularly.
It is not easy reading at all, but I know many average folk who have no problem at all reading it - and they must be representative of all the millions and millions who have bought Bibles. Most of them probably have not read any other book outside school! I know that's true of most of the Bible-spouting Catholic and evangelical charismatics in my country, who for the most part have humble occupations one does not associate with book reading. So that's another wonder.
Which means they won't be likely to read books like Augias-Pesce anyway. So Pesce shouldn't delude himself.
| 12/14/2006 1:42 PM
| Here is the text of an address delivered by the Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap, Archbishop of Denver, at the first annual Orange County breakfast prayer meeting in Garden Grove, California on Dec. 7. It's a wide-ranging, literate and inspiring address, thanks to Gerlad Augustinus whose blog led me to it....
PRAYING FOR THE 'HEART THAT SEES'
Each year, as we move toward Christmas, a friend of mine puts together a list of his favorite Christmas songs. Every year it's the usual mix of Silent Night, The Shepherds' Carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem - things like that. But every year he also includes Dr. Elmo's great Christmas classic, Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.
The lyrics go like this:
Grandma got run over by a reindeer,
Walking home from our house, Christmas Eve;
You can say there's no such thing as Santa,
But as for me and Grandpa -- we believe
I finally asked him why he puts this song on his list. He said, "For the pagans. A little belief is better than none at all."
I haven't been able to get this song out of my head - partly because it's so goofy, but also because it raises a couple of questions.
Who really owns Christmas? The pagans? The Christians? Toys-R-Us? The ACLU? Why are we supposed to be happy this month? And what exactly are we celebrating? Let me answer the questions this way.
The Louvre Museum in Paris holds about 35,000 pieces of art from the 14th to the 20th centuries. And one of the most beautiful collections in the Louvre is the paintings of the Middle Ages.
Medieval art is Christian art. One reason for that is obvious. The Church had the influence and the resources to pay for great art. Another reason is that the political leaders of that age shared that same Christian faith. So did the people. And so did the artists. As a result, paintings from the Middle Ages combine beauty, simplicity and faith in a very powerful way.
Most Medieval art tried to do two things: touch the heart with its beauty and teach the mind with its story. It opened a window on the Bible to people who couldn't read.
The recurring scenes in Medieval art are events like the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Birth of Christ, the Gift of the Magi, the Baptism in the Jordan, the Temptation in the Desert, Judas' Kiss, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.
The paintings had power not just because they were ways of teaching the faith. They had power because they connected the human condition with Christian hope and Christian purpose.
We're born, we grow, we suffer, we die. So do the people we love. Do our lives mean anything? And if they do, what do they mean? These are the questions that really matter to all of us. They mattered even more urgently to people with shorter life spans 700 years ago.
Medieval art is about birth, growth, suffering, death and the hope of new life, all viewed through the person of Jesus Christ. It's about God. But it's also about us as human beings -- because Jesus Christ is not only God; he's also human.
When a Medieval artist painted Pilate showing a beaten and bloody Christ to the mob with the words Ecce homo
-- "behold the man" - he spoke to the suffering of every man and woman who viewed the painting. That's the genius of the Gospel and the art it inspires.
Christian art is about the dignity of the human person loved and redeemed by God. It's about meaning.
Some of you may be thinking, if Medieval art was such a big deal, how come nobody does it anymore? That's a fair question.
I have a one-word answer: perspective. It's an interesting word, "perspective." It comes from the Latin verb perspicere, which means, "to see clearly."
In art, perspective is the technique of representing three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface. Medieval painters didn't know how to do this.
Starting in the 14th century, painters began figuring out how to put depth of field in their work. They learned how to create the illusion of a round apple on a flat piece of canvas. It's basically a math problem with horizon lines and vanishing points.
Within a hundred years, every painter used the new perspective techniques in his work. Nobody painted the old way. And very soon nobody looked at or experienced a painting the same way. There was a different perspective.
Seven hundred years ago, a painter might take months or years to finish a scene like the Nativity. Seven hundred years later, a teen-ager of our time can do a three-dimensional, photo-realistic image of the same scene in a few hours with a free piece of software called Blender 3D. But their perspectives are not at all the same.
The word "perspective" has two different meanings. It's not just a technique in art. It also means our frame of reference. It's our basic way of looking at people, ideas and events. Our perspective not only shapes how we understand the world; it also reveals a lot about what we believe and who we choose to be.
Here's the point. As we finish 2006, we know a lot more than we did 700 years ago. We eat better. We live longer. We have nicer clothes. We own more stuff. But are we happier? Are we wiser? Do our lives have more beauty and harmony and meaning? Are we more humane with each other?
Our perspective on the world has changed in fundamental ways. But is the soul of modern life any deeper or holier? Given the wars and injustices of the last century, we'd better think very carefully before we answer.
I believe that Americans are a blessed people. Most of us believe in God. We go to church at higher rates than any other developed country. We still work hard. We still have a deep love of family and personal integrity. And most of the good things we have, we've labored honestly to earn.
Americans enjoy more freedom, more mobility, better education, better career choices and better medical care than any other country in history. We have more personal wealth. We have more leisure time. We have a society genuinely based on law that at least tries to ensure justice for everybody. And in science, technology, commerce and military power, the United States has no equal.
But Americans also have a growing inequality of wealth, education and opportunity. We face a decline of ideas and public service; growing moral ambiguity; a spirit of entitlement with rights exalted over responsibilities; a cult of personal consumption; and a civic vocabulary that seems to get more brutish and more confused every year
This last point about our civic vocabulary is important. The language we use in public discourse matters. Words are like a paintbrush. They're a very powerful tool. They can form or deform the human conscience.
Words like "tolerance" and "consensus" are important democratic working principles. But they aren't Christian virtues, and they should never take priority over other words like charity, justice, faith and truth, either in our personal lives or in our public choices.
Here's another word: choice. Choice is usually a good thing. But it's never an end in itself. Choice is worthless - in fact, it's a form of idolatry - if all the choices are meaningless or bad.
Here's another word: pluralism. These days pluralism usually serves as a codeword for getting Christians to shut up in the public square out of some misguided sense of courtesy. But pluralism is just a demographic fact. It's not an ideology. And it's never a valid excuse for being quiet about our key moral convictions.
Here's another word: community. Community is more than a collection of persons. Community requires mutual respect, a shared future, and submission to each other's needs based on common beliefs and principles. It's not just an elegant name for an interest group. Talking about the "abortion rights community" makes as much sense as talking about the "big tobacco community."
Here's another couple of words: the common good. The common good does not mean the sum of what most people want right now. The common good is that which constitutes the best source of justice and happiness for a community and its members in the light of truth. The common good is never served by killing the weakest members of a community. It's also not served when the appetites and behaviors of individual members get a license to undermine the life of the wider community.
Finally, let's take one more word: democracy. Democracy does not mean putting aside our religiousand moral beliefs for the sake of public policy. In fact, it demands exactly the opposite. Democracy depends on people of character fighting for their beliefs in the public square - legally, ethically and nonviolently, but forcefully and without apology.
Democracy is not God. Only God is God. Even democracy stands under the judgment of God and God's truths about human purpose and dignity. The passengers in a car can democratically elect to go in the wrong direction. But they're still just as dead -
with or without a majority opinion - when they go over a cliff.
The fallout from this confusion in the language of American life can be summed up in five trends: first, the rise of an unhealthy individualism among citizens; second, growing tribal warfare among interest groups; third, more and more cynicism toward public life and service; fourth, a decline in democratic involvement; and fifth, image over substance in public debate, which results in politics as a kind of cynical sound-bite management
In recent years, some people in both political parties would like to blame the conflicts in American public life on religious believers. The argument goes like this. Religion is so powerful and so personal that whenever it enters public life in an organized way, it divides people. It repels. It polarizes. It oversimplifies complex issues. It creates bitterness. It invites extremism. And finally it violates the spirit of the Constitution by muddling up the separation of Church and state that keeps Americans from sliding into intolerance.
The same argument goes on to claim that, once they're free from the burden of religious interference, mature citizens and leaders can engage in reasoned discourse, putting aside superstition and private obsessions to choose the best course for the widest public. Because the state is above moral and religious tribalism, it can best guarantee the rights of everyone. Therefore a fully secularized public square would be the adulthood of the American Experiment.
That's the hype. Here's the reality.
First of all, key differences exist between public institutions which are simply non-sectarian, and today's secularist ideology. Everybody can live with the former. No Christian in his or her right mind should want to live with the latter. Whenever you hear loud fretting sparked by an irrational fear of an Established Church, somebody's trying to force religious believers and communities out of the public discussion of issues
Second, the American Experiment - more than any other modern state - is the product of religiously shaped concepts and tradition. It can't survive for long without respecting the source of that tradition. A fully secularized public life would mean policy by the powerful for the powerful because no permanent principles can exist in a morally neutral vacuum.
Finally, secularism isn't really morally neutral. It's actively destructive. It undermines community. It attacks the heart of what it means to be human. It rejects the sacred while posturing itself as neutral to the sacred. It ignores the most basic questions of social purpose and personal meaning by writing them off as private idiosyncrasies.
It also just doesn't work - in fact, by its nature it can't work - as a life-giving principle for society. And despite its own propaganda, it's never been a natural, evolutionary, historical result of human progress
Certain beliefs have always held Americans together as a people. Christianity and its Jewish roots have always provided the grounding for our most important national principles, like inalienable rights and equality under the law.
But as a country, we're losing the Founders' perspective on the meaning of our shared public life. We have wealth and power and free time and choices and toys - but we no longer see clearly who we are. Material things don't give us meaning
. We're in danger of becoming the "men without chests" that C.S. Lewis talked about in The Abolition of Man - people sapped of their heart, energy, courage and convictions by the machinery they helped to create. And if we can't find a way to heal that interior emptiness, then as an experiment in the best ideals of human freedom, America will fail.
I began by talking about Christmas. Who owns it? Why are we supposed to be happy? What are we really celebrating?
Good will, joy, peace, harmony, the giving of gifts - these are beautiful and holy things deeply linked to Christmas. But not to Santa Claus. And especially not to a politically correct, secular Santa Claus. Joy is not generic. Good will needs a reason. We don't suddenly become generous because the radio plays Jingle Bells.
Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ. We believe that Jesus is the messiah of Israel, the only Son of God, the Word of God made flesh. We believe that He was born in poverty in Bethlehem in order to grow and preach God's kingdom, and suffer, die and rise from the dead - all for the sake of our redemption, because God loves us.
Christmas is a feast of love, but it's God's love first that makes it possible. Christmas begins our deliverance from sin and death. That's why St. Leo the Great called it the "birthday of joy."
What begins in the stable ends in our salvation. That's why we celebrate Christmas, and it's the best and only reason the human heart needs.
Catholics observe these last few weeks every year before Christmas as the season of Advent. It's a time when the Church asks us to prepare our lives to receive Jesus the child at Christmas, and Jesus the king at the end of time. How can we best do that? The tradition of the Church tells us by vigil and by prayer.
The season of Advent is a vigil. The word "vigil" means to keep watch during normal sleeping hours, to pay attention when others are sleeping. It comes from a very old Indo-European word "weg", which means "be lively or active."
So to keep vigil or to be vigilant does not mean passive waiting but active, restless waiting, expectant waiting for the Lord. It means paying attention to what is going on in the world around us, and not being asleep. It means acting, living out our mission to be God's agents in the world.
Every truly Christian life is a kind of martyrdom, because what martyr means is witness. That's our task - a life of conscious, deliberate witness for Jesus Christ and our Catholic faith, in our families, our friendships, our business dealings and our public actions.
When Jesus said, "make disciples of all nations," and "you will be my witnesses," He didn't mean the guy down the road. He was speaking to you and to me.
The Advent tradition of the Church is vigil and prayer. There are two places in the New Testament - 1st Corinthians and Revelation - where we find a prayer in the Aramaic language, the Semitic dialect spoken by Jesus. Since this prayer is in Aramaic it must come from the very earliest days of the Church. The prayer is "Marana tha" and means "Lord, come!"
St. Augustine tells us that God is indebted to us, not because of anything we have done, but because of His promises. God always keeps His promises. So we call on Him to come again.
Our Advent prayer is "Lord, come!"
Lord, come - into our world!
Lord, come - into our lives!
Lord, come -- and purify our longings!
Lord, come - to free us from our compulsions and sins!
Lord, come - into our relationships!
Lord, come - into our work!
Lord, come - into our sufferings!
And into the darkness of our troubled world.
We speak these words - "Marana-tha" - with a real and confident urgency, not only for ourselves and our personal lives, but also for our Church and our nation.
Earlier I mentioned the power of perspective in painting, and the power of perspective in our lives. I hope the meaning of that word stays with you in the coming days of Advent - perspicere, "to see clearly."
Twelve months ago, on Christmas Day, Pope Benedict XVI published his first encyclical. He called it Deus Caritas Est
- "God is love."
Here's a line from it that I want to share with you as I close: "The Christian program - the program of the Good Samaritan, the program of Jesus -- is 'a heart which sees.' This heart sees where love is needed and acts accordingly" (31, b).
Being faithful to your spouse and family; defending the unborn child; helping the poor; visiting the sick; respecting the immigrant; protecting the dignity and meaning of marriage; working for justice; leading with character - this is the Christian program, the result of hearts which see.
What I ask God to give to you and to me, to our nation and to our Church this Christmas, is the one gift that really does matter: hearts that see, and see clearly.
God grant all of us a blessed Advent and a joyful Christmas.
[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 20/12/2006 20.38]
| 12/20/2006 7:54 PM
| A few weeks ago, we posted the text of a presentation made by George Weigel about Pope Benedict at a conference on RELATIVISM AND THE CRISIS OF CULTURES IN THE WRITINGS OF POPE BENEDICT XVI held at the Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium, at the United Nations in New York on 11/20/06.
B16 OFFERS DIAGNOSIS AND PRESCRIPTION FOR WESTERN MALAISE
The conference was held in connection with the recent publication in English of the book "Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures" by then Cardinal Ratzinger.
I had mentioned that there was an item in the Italian press about an address given by former Italian Senate President Marcello Pera at the same conference. I never did get around to translating that item, but here's something much better - the full text of the speech, from the website of the Vatican mission to the United Nations.
The God of the Logos.:
Pope Benedict XVI and
the crisis of modern culture
A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures.
Benedict XVI, Regensburg lecture
1. Questions about Western modern culture
When I was given the great privilege to write an introduction to this book (J. Ratzinger, Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 2006), I had two burdens: to take a position on its content, and to explain why I was taking precisely that position.
This time I have a third burden: to show why the Pope’s book contains, to the best of my knowledge, one of the most penetrating analyses of our modern Western culture and, to the best of my conscience, the most promising therapy against its malaise.
This is like saying that I consider Pope Benedict XVI not only a deep intellectual analyst of our condition but a spiritual and moral guide to whom we all should pay the greatest attention. Even those who have problems with the Christian idea of Providence may agree that it is providential that Benedict XVI is today the Sovereign Pontiff of the Catholic Church
Among the many other questions the book refers to ? the chapter on the structure of faith is most impressive ? the main ones are:
(1) What crisis is our condition passing through?
(2) What is the main source of this crisis?
(3) What consequences follow from it?
(4) Where does the crisis take place in particular?
(5) What remedies can be taken to overcome it?
(6) Who can take those remedies and how?
The Pope’s answers to these questions are straightforward, precise, and well argued. I will present them first, by using the Pope’s own words, and I will then make two reflections of my own, one more philosophical the other in reference to the religious tensions in today’s world. In the latter case I will refer to the Pope’s much disputed and even more misunderstood Regensburg lecture.
2. The Pope’s answers
The Pope’s answers to the questions above are quite clear and can be summarized briefly:
(1’) The crisis of the modern condition in Western societies is moral and spiritual
. Modern man is, and wants to be, a Godless man. Today ? the Pope writes ? “man no longer accepts any moral authority apart from his own calculations.” (p.40) He considers himself as a man-“constructed” man, affected as he is by a sort of Icarian syndrome. “In this way, the splendor of the fact that he is the image of God ?t he source of his dignity and of his inviolability ? no longer shines upon this man.” (p.26)
(2’) The profound origin of this situation is the modern idea of reason and the success of its technological applications.
For today’s culture, “only that which can be demonstrated experimentally is rational.” (p.30) This means that “reason” is the same as “scientific reason”.
But if reason is the same as scientific reason and any phenomenon is to be explained in scientific terms, then there is no room for religion, and morality, at its best, boils down to “the calculation of consequences.” As the Pope writes, “the category of good vanishes … Nothing is good or evil in itself.” (p.31)
This is another way of saying that what is good and evil depends on our personal preferences and subjective interests, that there are no moral universal yardsticks, and that value judgments are the same as taste judgments. “I approve of gay marriage”, is like “I love vanilla ice cream”; “I stand for abortion”, is like “I prefer hamburgers”; and so on.
(3’) The outcome of this way of reasoning and living is not more freedom and more tolerance, as many intellectuals argue. Quite the contrary, the outcome is the “absolutization of a way of thinking and living that is radically opposed to all the other historical cultures of humanity.”
On this point the Pope is very precise. To those who are afraid of a clash of civilizations he recalls that “the real antagonism typical of today’s world is not that between diverse religious cultures; rather, it is the antagonism between the radical emancipation of man from God, from the roots of life, on the one hand, and the great religious cultures, on the other.” (p.44)
In other words, the risky game today is not merely between Christianity and Islam, but between secularism, on the one hand, and Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and any other historical religious faith, on the other. And if there will ever be a clash of civilizations, then the main responsibility will be of those secularized states and societies who do not allow religions to express themselves in public and to play a role in the definition of the identities of their peoples
(4’) The moral crisis of modern man is widespread but it takes place in particular in the West and most of all in Europe
“Europe ? the Pope writes ? has developed a culture that, in a manner hitherto unknown to mankind, excludes God from public awareness.” (p.30) or: “a culture has developed in Europe that is the most radical contradiction not only of Christianity, but of all the religious and moral traditions of humanity.” (p.31).
This is so because the very European culture that since the onstart had allied the Judeo-Christian faith with Greek reason, and on which much of Western civilization depends, is now trying an anti-historical experiment of “traction” of the former over the other, by attempting to replace God with science and religious life with a secularist view and practice.
This is why, as George Weigel has stressed in his publications, Europe today is suffering from “a crisis of civilizational morale”. America, as the Pope had remarked in the book Without Roots
(Basic Books, New York 2006) seems to be in a different position. However, the whole West faces a similar crisis, because it is affected by similar diseases.
(5’) The remedy to this situation lies in the reversing of a long standing view. “In the age of Enlightenment ? the Pope writes ? the attempt was made to understand and define the essential norms of morality by saying that these would be valid etsi Deus non daretur
, even if God did not exist…
Even the person who does not succeed in finding the path to accepting the existence of God ought nevertheless to try to live and to direct his life veluti si Deus daretur
, as if God did indeed exist” (pp.50-51).
In my view, this is possible because there is no need, apart from a historical tradition, to confine human reason within the borders of scientific reason. And this is also feasible, because reason can admit, and open itself to, other dimensions than the empirical ones.
The God hypothesis ? more specifically the Christian God hypothesis ? requires us to broaden the usual concept of reason, not to shrink it. It demands that we live in accordance with certain moral values ? such as respect for the dignity of the person, the commitment to human life, the affirmation of equality among men ? not to abandon the best moral standards modernity has achieved or those truth claims scientific research has arrived at.
The Pope has no doubts on this point. First he writes that “we must not lose sight of God if we do not want human dignity to disappear”, then he adds: “does this amount to a simple rejection of the Enlightenment and modernity? Certainly not! From the very beginning, Christianity has understood itself to be the religion of the Logos, to be a religion in keeping with reason.” (p.47)
(6’) Finally, the last answer. The remedies to overcome our moral crisis can be taken by any man of good will. The tool is dialogue. Not just a mere conversation or colloquy or exchange of ideas. Dialogue is more and more demanding: it is a confrontation between different interlocutors with different points of departure
At least for Christians, the common ground exists: as the Christian God is the God of the Logos, then, since reason can be shared by anybody, it becomes the means to standby one another and to understand each other even when differences and divergences still persist.
In summary. The Pope’s main points of the book, in my view, are:
(a) The moral and spiritual crisis affecting the West depends on a narrow conception of reason and on a blind confidence in technology that pervades our culture;
(b) Western science-dependent culture, while transforming science into a new religion or ideology, is missing the most important questions for man ? our place and destiny in the world, the meaning of life, the foundations of morality, the sense of mystery and limit ? is shaking the moral foundations of our liberal states, and, by demonizing religion, is making our societies less cohesive;
(c) Broadening the Western concept of reason, opening it to the dimension of God, and living “as if” God, more specifically the God of the Logos, did exist, is the best way to avoid that clash of civilizations the West is bringing about and is most frightened of at the same time.
Here comes my first reflection on the Pope’s book. It deals with the Christian religion, its relation to science and its place in our lives and society.
3. Religion, science, metaphysics
In the era of Galileo Christianity was considered to be incompatible with modern astronomy. Then came Darwin and the same was held to be true. Today the story is repeating itself. With a crucial difference: whereas Galileo explicitly maintained that his theory did not interfere with religion and Darwin never considered his theory contrary to it, several modern cosmologists and biologists maintain the incompatibility view.
This is an enormous mistake. Thinkers like Richard Dawkins in his God’s Delusion
or Daniel Dennet in his Darwin’s Dangerous Idea or Breaking the Spell
, who consider religion bypassed or confuted by science and take it as a cultural relict to be kept in some cultural zoos, are not advancing a scientific claim but a scientistic one.
If one takes Darwin’s theory, transforms it into Darwinism, tries to explain any human behavior in naturalistic terms and reduces any human disposition to useful reactions to some pressure from the external environment, then one leaves the ground of experimental science, that is physics, and enters into a different one, that is meta-physics.
The games, of course, are free, one can play them both, but one cannot mix them up, let alone transfer the rules of the one into the domain of the other. If one does metaphysics without acknowledging it, then he or she is in the same position of the famous character of Molière who continued to speak but did not know what prose is.
In the same vein, if one is hopeless at music, does not perform it and takes a high note as a disturbing noise, then one cannot pretend to listen to a concert and explain why people enjoy it by reducing it to a series of mathematical equations about the chords of the violins or the length of the brass. To my view, people like Dawkins are actors who play theater with no skill or musicians who scrape instruments with no talent
Let us open the door of scientific laboratories. In the world there is love, compassion, devotion, commitment, piety, benevolence, among the many other aspects of human behavior.
Following Darwin, one can say that these faculties, inclinations, feelings, emotions, or whatever they are called resulted from certain advantages of the brain as useful responses to the pressure from the environment.
Or, following Hume, one can say they are dispositions selected or induced by culture and society. This may be the end of the scientific story but it is not the end of the whole story.
Because to explain how these behaviors came out is not the same as to explain what their sense is. The material-efficient cause of the former explanation does not touch the formal-final cause of the latter. Nor does it replace it. To believe that it does amounts precisely to that way of shrinking the concept of reason and confining it within the limits of scientific reason alone that the Pope demands that we question.
It is true that modern science, contrary to, say, Aristotle’s, is happy to get rid of formal-final causes. It is also true that modern science could not exist without this choice. But this is precisely a choice, a decision. It proves that modern science deliberately adopts one kind of reason and not others or one kind of evidence, empirical evidence, and not others, like evidence of faith or moral evidence
It does not prove that scientific reason covers the whole human reason or that empirical evidence covers any possible evidence
. The reason I use to explain why I fell in love with that woman is not the same ? in the sense that it does not use the same procedures and ways of arguing ? as the reason that I use to explain what my love for that woman is. Nor does the former make the latter redundant.
Materialists, reductionists, monists conflate the two concepts of reason or absorb the one into the other. This is a fallacy. “Link”, “cause”, “evidence”, “truth”, “proof” are concepts with a precise meaning in one domain and a different one in another. To pretend that the former is the same as the latter is a category mistake dictated by a lapse of understanding or intellectual arrogance.
Religion, in my view, is a basic attitude that expresses man’s openness to the infinite and the transcendent and provides answers to ultimate questions ? Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? What is the sense of our life? ? that cannot be settled otherwise.
A lot of philosophers and scientists or would-be scientists from Lucretius to Bertrand Russell, from Critia to Freud, have attempted the impossible to drop religion or the sense of faith out of our lives. No one has ever convinced more than their colleagues next door. Only large scale experiments like communism have succeeded for a while.
I have no doubt that our philosophers and metaphysicians in disguise, tolerant, liberal and democratic as they profess to be, would not support, as many of their distinguished predecessors did, any new Lenin or Stalin or Mao who would come up with other religious cleansings.
Other attitudes towards religion are also wrong. One is relativism, according to which, any religion, like any form of life or culture or civilizations, is as good as any other.
It is true that religions are self-contained systems, each of them with its own view of the Supreme Being, ways of relating to him, rites to pay homage to him, ceremonies to evoke or honor him, and so on. It is also true that self-contained systems are mutually exclusive.
But although religious faiths are all-pervasive, religions are not cages with no ways out or conceptual highlands with no connections with the rest of human life. They have practical ? that is cultural, social, moral, behavioral, political ? consequences: for example in terms of human rights they do or do not support, the establishment of institutions they give or do not give rise to, the relations among men they favor or prevent.
Therefore, although there cannot be a genuine inter-religious dialogue, religions can be compared at sub-religious levels and in indirect ways. It is up to rational discussion and critical scrutiny to let them evolve, to correct their previous interpretations, to establish their mutual merits.
Another wrong attitude towards religion is to privatize it, that is to confine it within the private, subjective sphere alone. As they are ways of orientating ourselves in the world, religions play, aim to play, and must play a role in public life. Religions shape societies.
The distinction between state and church is an institutional regime (whose conceptual foundations date back to the Gospels), but it is not the same as the distinction between politics and religion. The former is a political arrangement useful to set limits and establish mutual relationships, the latter is an ideological prohibition harmful to individuals and societies.
The final wrong attitude against religion is the reverse of the previous one. We should not nationalize religions by replacing them all with a single “rational”, “positive”, or “secular” religion, as the French Enlightenment aimed to do and Jacobins of all sort have tried to do.
Not only is law-enforced secularism not working in practice, not only is it intellectually arrogant and practically violent, its very idea is untenable in theory. It amounts either to a form of syncretism, which is inconsistent with the systemic, irreducible nature of religious faiths, or to a form of oppression, which is contrary to freedom and democracy’s very aim
4. Christianity and Islam
My second reflection refers to the relationships between religions, in particular the relationship between Christianity and Islam, which today, for a lot of reasons mostly independent of them, is often a source of tension. I do believe that in this book and his Regensburg lecture the Pope has provided the right key to lessen, if not to resolve, it.
Let us first consider the problem from the Christian point of view. Christians believe in a God who is Logos. This is of fundamental importance, because if God is Logos, then “not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature.” This is precisely the core of what the now famous Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus said to the educated Persian. The Christian God is not violent, does not resort to coercion, does not make use of any strength but love and care (remember the very title of the Pope’s first encyclical: God is love).
The Pope knows and explicitly admits that things have not always gone like this. He writes that there have been times and places “where Christianity, contrary to its own nature, had unfortunately become mere tradition and the religion of the state.” (p.48)
This reference makes it clear that what the Pope calls “the nature of Christianity” is not an immutable essence caught once and for all but an evolving concept that changes with interpretation. And this means that Christianity is accompanied by and subject to a rational, critical, self-improving and cumulative discourse that is a science: theology.
As theology evolves and accommodates itself to different historical situations, sometimes by following them other times by anticipating them, the theological doctrine may change, and does change, with time. The God of the Logos is always the same ? revelation, incarnation, resurrection ? but our understanding of his message may be different. Deus est caritas, say, is not the same as Syllabus. This is no scandal, this is theological advancement, growth, progress.
Let us now consider the question from the point of view of Islam. Here some crucial questions crop up. Does Islam have a similar theology? Does it admit one? Does it have compelling hermeneutic authorities?
And most of all: Is Islam, like Christianity, a religion of the Logos? Does Islam consider followers of other religions as different believers to be respected or as infidels to be condemned? Does Islamic jihad have only spiritual connotations?
If this is so, if also Islam allows a rational, scientific, self-corrective theological discourse about God, then that discourse, which cannot be pursued but in terms of reason, becomes the common ground to entertain a dialogue, no matter how difficult it can be. If this is not the case, things become more serious.
Even in the modern age Christianity has faced the same questions. Sometimes it has answered them in the right way, sometimes in the wrong way, sometimes in the right way but with wrong applications.
The Pope seems to want to answer them in a final, decisive way. He argues that the link between Christianity and reason is an essential, constitutive one. As he said in his Regensburg lecture, there is “profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God”, “the encounter between the Biblical message and Greek thought did not happen by chance”, and “the critically purified Greek heritage forms an integral part of Christian faith”.
In other words, “the fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the uses of human reason are part of the faith itself”. This is mostly important, because if Christianity is coessentially linked to reason, then reason is the tool Christian believers can and should use to relate themselves to other believers.
Today the burden of answering the same questions is on Islam. It is Islam, first of all for the benefit of its own followers, that is asked to set the relation it intends to keep with human reason. It is Islam that is expected to interpret or present itself in such terms that it can allow intercultural dialogue. And it is to Islam to stop any wrong version of its core, especially if violent or aggressive.
To ask Islam the very same questions Christianity has faced and continues to face is the most respectful way to start a dialogue with Islam, “without ambiguity”, to use the Pope’s own expression in his recent address at the Gregorian University in Rome.
Christians and Muslims are different and may want to be different. But they should not be deaf and blind. What is at stake today is too important to be left to mass emotion or to oblique intentions of political leaders.
In his Regensburg lecture the Pope advanced a challenge to both Christians and Muslims. To the memory of one, he brought the link between Christianity and reason, to the attention of the other, he stressed that God acts according to reason.
The Pope did not make any provocation, nor did he express any offence. His goal was a real interpretation of Christianity and a question to Islam. The Pope was misunderstood in the West, because sometimes bad calculations prevail over rational discussion, and in some Muslim countries, because sometimes hostile propaganda prevails over the exercise of understanding.
This is a sad story and may be the source of a tragedy to which we all, if we are honest and responsible, must react. The situation is risky and the dim alarm has already sounded many times. The Pope has suggested a way to stop it. That is why we appreciate and thank him.
| 12/20/2006 8:12 PM
| Sandro Magister provides us the English translation of a lecture given by Cardinal Ruini, the Pope's Vicar in Rome, to the priests of his diocese on 12/14/06 at the Lateran University.
THE HEART OF BENEDICT XVI'S TEACHING
It is perhaps the best synthesis so far by another priest and theologian of the Pope's magisterium in the first 20 months of his Papacy. It is very readable and most informative in citing historical context, and ultimately, a very rewarding read.
Presenting the salvific truth
of Jesus Christ to the mindset of our times
by Cardinal Camillo Ruini
1. Some premises
One characteristic of the magisterium of Benedict XVI is his great commitment to the question of the truth of the Christian faith, in the current historical situation and in relation to the forms of rationality prevalent today.
In the language of theology, we could say that the pope is confronting, in his style and in an innovative manner, the central question of apologetics, or – in today’s preferred phrase – of fundamental theology.
The aim of this address is, evidently, not that of exploring these problems, and not even that of making a complete presentation of these, but only of entering into them, offering a few main lines of orientation and keys of interpretation, in the light of both the magisterium of Benedict XVI – in particular, the September 12, 2006 address at the University of Regensburg and the October 19 address at the Verona Conference, in addition to the encyclical “Deus Caritas Est” – and his previous work as a theologian.
Among his many important books, I refer primarily to the “Introduction to Christianity,” printed in Italy by Queriniana (referred to hereafter as “Introduction”), and to the two collections of essays “Faith, Truth, and Tolerance: Christianity and the Religions of the World,” published by Cantagalli in 2003 (referred to hereafter as “Faith”), and “Benedict’s Europe in the Crisis of Cultures,” also published by Cantagalli, in 2005 (referred to hereafter as “Europe”), because these three books are the most pertinent to our topic.
In fact, although Benedict XVI is very careful to distinguish between his magisterium as pontiff and his work as a theologian, as he himself asserts in the early publication of the preface to his book “Jesus of Nazareth,” due to be released next spring, there is still a profound correspondence and substantial unity between his magisterium and his theology. Attentive examination therefore permits identifying, through both the one and the other, those very fundamental outlines that I will seek to present today.
Before embarking upon this topic, it may be helpful to say a few words on the theological outlook and manner of proceeding proper to Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI.
Having taught fundamental theology at first and later dogmatic theology, he has an approach to issues in which theoretical and philosophical exploration is placed within a perspective that is above all historical and concrete.
Furthermore, his formation is essentially biblical, patristic, and liturgical, and he confronts current problems in the light of this. His attitude toward these problems certainly denotes acute critical capacities, but it is marked above all by the desire to be constructive, by openness, and by friendliness. His autographical book, “My Life,” is of particular interest for gaining an idea of how he himself views his formation and his work as a theologian.
Coming now to our topic, I think it’s right to take as our point of departure the conviction, expressed by cardinal Ratzinger, that “at the end of the second millennium, Christianity finds itself, precisely in the place of its original diffusion, Europe, in a profound crisis, based upon the crisis over its claim to truth” (“Faith,” p. 170).
This crisis has a twofold dimension: mistrust toward man’s ability to grasp the truth about God and about divine things, and the doubts that the modern natural and historical sciences have raised about the tenets and origins of Christianity.
2. The original nature of Christianity: Being, Lógos, Agape
The gravity and the radical nature of this crisis can be understood in the light of what is the nature proper to Christianity.
It is certainly true that this is not in the first place “an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” (“Deus Caritas Est,” no. 1), but it is likewise true that the choice of lógos rather than of myth has characterized Christianity itself from the beginning.
J. Ratzinger has argued extensively in favor of this assertion, above all on the historical level, beginning with his inaugural academic address in 1959 at the University of Bonn, entitled “The God of faith and the God of the philosophers,” and up until his very recent address at the University of Regensburg.
In concrete terms, well before the birth of Christ the criticism of religious myths advanced by Greek philosophy – criticism that can be described as the philosophical Enlightenment of the ancient world – found a counterpart in the criticism of the false Gods made by the prophets of Israel (and in particular by Deutero–Isaiah) in the name of Yahwistic monotheism, and then the encounter between Judaic faith and Greek philosophy gradually developed and found expression even within the Greek tradition of the Old Testament of the “Septuagint,” which “is more than a mere tradition” and represents “an important concrete step in the history of revelation” (Regensburg address).
Thus the affirmation “In the beginning was the Lógos,” which begins the prologue of the Gospel of John, constitutes “the final word on the biblical concept of God, and in this word all the often toilsome and tortuous threads of biblical faith find their culmination and synthesis” (ibid.).
The patristic world moved along the same line, as emerges from the audacious and incisive expression by Tertullian, “Christ asserted that he was the truth, not custom” (“Introduction,” p. 102) and by the clear choice of saint Augustine, who, referring to the three forms of religion identified by the pagan author Terentius Varro, resolutely places Christianity in the realm of “physical theology,” or of philosophical rationality, and not in that of the “mythical theology” of the poets, or of the “civil theology” of the states and the politicians.
Christianity thus described itself as a “true religion,” unlike the pagan religions, which had been stripped of their truth by pre-Christian rationality, and with respect to these it carried out a great work of “demythification.”
Judaism had already begun a process of this kind, but there remained the difficulty of the special bond between the one, universal creator God and the one Jewish people, a bond that was overcome by Christianity, in which the one God is presented as the savior, without discrimination, of all peoples.
In this sense, the encounter between the biblical message and Greek philosophical thought was not a mere accident, but rather the historical embodiment of the intrinsic relationship between revelation and rationality. And this is precisely another of the fundamental reasons for Christianity’s power of penetration into the Greco-Roman world (cf. “Faith,” pp. 173-180).
But with this we have, so to speak, only half of the discussion: the other half is constituted by the radical novelty and the profound otherness of biblical revelation with respect to Greek rationality, and this concerns above all the central theme of religion, which is clearly that of God.
J. Ratzinger takes great pains in demonstrating, through the examination of the biblical texts, from the account of the burning bush in Exodus chapter 3 all the way to the formula “I am” that Jesus applies to himself in the Gospel of John, that the one God of the Old and New Testaments is the Being, self-existing from eternity, sought after by the philosophers (cf. “Introduction,” pp. 79-97).
But he emphasizes with just as much force that this God radically surpasses what the philosophers had thought about Him.
In the first place, in fact, God is clearly distinct from nature, from the world that He created: only in this way do “physics” and “metaphysics” arrive at a clear distinction from one another.
And above all, this God is not a reality inaccessible to us that we cannot encounter or turn to in prayer, as the philosophers maintained.
On the contrary, the biblical God loves man, and for this reason he enters into our history, gives life to an authentic love story with Israel, his people, and then, in Jesus Christ, not only expands this story of love and salvation to include all of humanity, but he carries this story to the extreme, to the point of “turning against himself” in the cross of his own Son, in order to raise man up again and save him, and to call man to that union of love with Him that culminates in the Eucharist (cf. “Deus Caritas Est,” nos. 9-15, where Benedict XVI sums up with great force what he has explored ever since the beginning of his work as a theologian).
In this way, the God who is Being and the Word is also and identically Agape, the original Love and the measure of authentic love, who precisely out of love created the universe and man.
More precisely, this love is entirely disinterested, free, and gratuitous. God, in fact, freely creates the universe from nothing (only with the freedom of the act of creation does the distinction between God and the world become full and definitive) and freely, out of his measureless mercy, saves sinful humanity.
Thus biblical faith reconciles the two dimensions of religion that were separated from each other at first; that is, the eternal God of whom the philosophers spoke, and the need for salvation that man carries within himself and that the pagan religions tried to satisfy in some way.
The God of the Christian faith is thus indeed absolute Being, the God of metaphysics, but he is also, and just as much, the God of history, the God who enters into history and into the most intimate relationship with us. This, according to J. Raztinger, is the only adequate response to the question of the God of faith and the God of the philosophers (cf. “Faith,” pp. 180-182).
All of this has inevitable and decisive consequences with regard to man and the way of understanding life, meaning ethics. As Saint Paul explicitly said, “when the pagans who do not have the law act according to the law by nature [...] they show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts” (Romans 2:14-15). In the same spirit, Paul asks believers in Christ: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).
There is a clear reference here to the ethical interpretation of nature, which was cultivated in morality of the Stoics. This interpretation was then taken up by Christianity, but at the same time it was surpassed: when the encounter with the living God replaces a God who exists only in thought, the passage takes place from a theoretical ethics to a communitarian moral praxis that is lived out and put into action in the faith community, and concretely through the crystallization of all morality in the twofold commandment of love for God and for neighbor.
And just as God creates and gives himself in freedom, so also faith in Him cannot be anything but a free act, which no statutory authority can prohibit or impose: thus “fundamental to Christianity is the distinction between what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God (cf. Matthew 22:21)” (“Deus Caritas Est,” 28).
This is, in its fullness, the reason for the missionary dynamism developed by Christianity in the Greco–Roman world. This was convincing because it reconnected within itself the bond between faith and reason, and the orientation of action toward “caritas,” loving care for the suffering, the poor, and the weak, apart from any distinction of social condition.
We can therefore conclude that the power that made a worldwide religion out of Christianity and made convincing its claim to being the “true religion” consists of the synthesis that this has been able to achieve among reason, faith, and life (cf. “Faith,” pp. 182-184, and also the address to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005).
3. The separation of reason and freedom from Christianity
This synthesis and this claim have endured for many centuries, despite many historical vicissitudes, and were at the basis of the later phases of Christianity’s missionary expansion (cf. the Verona address).
At this point, J. Ratzinger forcefully poses this question: “Why is this synthesis no longer convincing today? Why are reason and Christianity, on the contrary, considered today as contradictory and even as mutually exclusive? What has changed about the former, and what has changed about the latter?” (“Faith,” p. 184).
So let us examine, in the first place, the changes that have taken place in “reason.”
In a very summary manner, we will say only that the relational unity between rationality and faith, to which saint Thomas Aquinas gave systematic form, was gradually and increasingly demolished through the major phases of modern thought, from Descartes to Vico to Kant, while the new synthesis between reason and faith attempted by Hegel does not really restore to faith its rational dignity, but tends instead to convert it completely into reason, destroying it as faith.
The next phase, which has emblematic figures like Marx and Comte, overturns the position of Hegel, who reduced matter to spirit, in reducing spirit to matter instead – with the exclusion of the very possibility of a transcendent God – and by again diminishing, in the line of principle, a “metaphysics” as distinct from “physics.”
Contextually there took place a transformation of the concept of truth, which ceased to be the understanding of reality existing independently from us, to become the understanding of what we ourselves have done in history, and then of what we can accomplish through the empirical sciences and technology (a “functional” concept of reason and life).
Thus the primacy of (metaphysical) philosophy was replaced by the primacy of history, later replaced by that of science and technology. This latter primacy is today fairly clearly visible in Western culture, and, to the extent to which it claims that only scientific understanding is really true and rational, must be described as “scientism” (cf. “Introduction,” pp. 27-37; “Fede,” pp. 186-187).
In this context, the theory of the evolution of species proposed by Darwin has ended up taking on – among many scientists and philosophers, and to a great extent within modern culture – the role of a kind of vision of the world or of “first philosophy,” which on the one hand would be rigorously “scientific” and on the other would constitute, at least potentially, a universal explanation or theory of all reality, based upon natural selection or casual mutations, beyond which other questions about the origin and nature of things are not supposed to be necessary any longer, or even licit.
The assertion that “in the beginning was the Lógos” is thus overturned, with the placing at the beginning of everything matter-energy, chance, and necessity, and thus something that would not itself be rational (cf. “Faith,” pp. 187-190).
Even among those who do not believe in Christ, such positions are certainly not shared by all, often being perceived as an insufferable dogmatism that claims to be “scientific” but blurs the intrinsic limits of scientific knowledge.
But J. Ratzinger observes that, because of that great change by which, from Kant on, human reason is no longer thought to be capable of understanding reality in itself, and above all transcendent reality, the alternative to scientism most culturally accepted today seems to be, not the affirmation of God the Word, but rather the idea that “latet omne verum,” all reality is hidden, or that the true reality of God remains entirely inaccessible and incomprehensible to us, while the various religions are thought to present only images of God relative to different cultural contexts, and thus all are equally “true” and “untrue.”
In this way, the Western world is again inhabited by that approach to the divine that is proper to the great Eastern religions or visions of the world, like Hinduism and Buddhism (although the two are very different), and that Neoplatonism tried to propose in its own way as an alternative to Christianity, during the first centuries of the Christian era (cf. “Faith,” pp. 184-186).
It is not difficult to realize how such ideas are in practice spread among our people. A God, or better a “divinity,” thus understood tends to identify itself with the most profound and mysterious dimension of the universe, present at the foundation of all reality: it is therefore difficult to attribute a personal character to this divinity, and prayer itself, rather than being a dialogue between God and man, takes the form of spiritual stages of self-purification, which culminate in the reabsorption and dissolution of our ego in the primordial infinity.
And so, in the end, there does not seem to be such a radical difference between these forms of religiosity and the agnosticism, or even atheism, that goes together with the scientist approach (cf. “Faith,” pp. 184-186, and also pp. 23-43; 125-134). As the Christian faith in a God who is Being, Word, and Agape has embodied itself in a precise form of life and ethics, something analogous has taken place and is taking place with the forms of rationality that tend to take the place of Christianity, and which in their turn express themselves in concrete ethical guidelines.
If “all truth is hidden,” or even if only that is rationally valid which can be experienced and measured, at the same time on the practical level of life and behavior the fundamental value becomes that of “tolerance,” in the sense that no one should or can maintain that his own convictions and choices are preferable and are better with respect to those of others. This is the current and apparently full-grown figure of Enlightenment philosophy, which defines itself concretely through the rights to freedom, with the individual freedoms as the supreme and decisive criterion by which all others are measured, and with the consequent exclusion of any possible discrimination that might harm anyone.
There is therefore the diminishing, especially at the social and public level, of moral conscience as something objectively valid, because it refers to what is good or bad in itself. But since some morality is necessary in any case in order to live, this is in some way recovered by making reference to the calculation of the useful or harmful consequences of one’s behaviors, and keeping always as the guiding criterion the principle of not limiting another’s freedom (cf. “Europe,” pp. 35-37).
On the level of content, to the conception of the world that absolutizes the evolutionistic model there corresponds an ethics that places at the center natural selection, and therefore the struggle for survival and the triumph of the strongest, while in the perspective of those forms of religiosity that refer to an incomprehensible and tendentiously impersonal divinity, the human person himself, with his inalienable rights, freedom, and responsibility, loses his own consistency and becomes something relative and transitory, tending to dissolve into an indistinguishable totality.
So also the irreducible difference between good and evil becomes relativized, and becomes merely the opposition of two aspects, both necessary and complementary, of the single original whole.
* * *
Let us now look more quickly at the changes in Christianity itself that have contributed to the divorce that has taken place between it and reason in our age.
In the discourse at Regensburg, Benedict XVI put particular emphasis on the theme of the “de-Hellenization” of Christianity, which first emerged in the sixteenth century with the Protestant Reformation: the intention was that of returning to pure biblical faith, liberating it from the influences of Greek philosophy, or of metaphysics. Such an intention can also be found in Kant, although in a rather different form.
The second wave of the process of de-Hellenization emerged from liberal Protestant theology in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but it also held strong interest for Catholic theology. In the thought of its most radical representatives, like Harnack, this was a matter of returning to Jesus strictly as man, taken as the Jesus of history, and to his simple moral message, thought to constitute the apex of the religious development of humanity, liberating it from its later philosophical and theological developments, beginning with the very divinity of Christ. At the roots of this is the modern self-limitation of reason to that which is verifiable.
The third wave of de-Hellenization now spreading concerns the problem of the encounter between Christianity and the many cultures of the world: the synthesis with Hellenism made by the ancient Church is supposed to be an early inculturation that should be shaken off now, to return to the simple message of the New Testament in order to inculturate this anew within the various socio-cultural contexts. The result is inevitably that of relativizing the bond between faith and reason established since Christianity’s beginning, maintaining that this is merely circumstantial, and therefore disposable.
Another and even more relevant change has been the one by which, with the passing of the centuries, Christianity unfortunately became to a great extent a human tradition and a state religion, contrary to its nature (cf. the words of Tertullian: “Christ asserted that he was the truth, not custom”). Although the search for rationality and freedom has always been present in Christianity, the voice of reason has been too domesticated.
It is to the credit of the Enlightenment that it re-proposed, often in opposition to the Church, these original values of Christianity, and that it gave voice again to reason and freedom. The historical significance of Vatican Council II lies in its having brought forward again, especially in the constitution on the Church in the modern world and in the declaration on religious freedom, this profound correspondence between Christianity and Enlightenment philosophy, aiming at a real reconciliation between the Church and modernity, which is the great patrimony to be safeguarded by both sides (“Europe,” pp. 57–59; cf. the discourse to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005).
4. For a new accord of reason and freedom with Christianity
And so we arrive at the true objective of all the preceding reflections: to seek out pathways toward a new accord of reason and liberty with Christianity, or, as the title of this address states, “to propose the salvific truth of Jesus Christ to the mindset of our times.”
The reply that J. Ratzinger/Benedict XVI gives to this question is, above all, that of “making more room for rationality.”
Limiting reason to what can be experienced and examined is, in fact, useful, precise, and necessary in the specific field of the natural sciences, and constitutes the key of their unceasing development. But if it is universalized and held to be absolute and self-sufficient, such a limitation becomes untenable, inhuman, and, in the end, contradictory.
By virtue of this, in fact, man would no longer be able to ponder rationally on the essential realities of his life, on his origin and his end, on moral duty, on life and death, but would have to leave these decisive problems to irrational emotion.
But this mutilates reason, and man becomes divided within himself and almost disintegrated, provoking pathology in both religion – which, detached from rationality, easily degenerates into superstition, fanaticism, and fundamentalism – and science, which easily turns against man when it is detached from ethics, and in concrete terms from the recognition of the human person as a being that can never be reduced to an instrument (cf. “Fede,” p. 99, pp. 164–166).
The very claim that reality is only that which can be experienced and measured leads inevitably to, among other things, the reduction of the human subject to a product of nature, which as such is not free and is susceptible to being treated like any other animal. This leads to a complete overturning of modern culture’s point of departure, which consists in the affirmation of man and his freedom.
Analogously, on the practical level, when indiscriminate individual freedom, for which in the ultimate analysis everything is relative to the subject, is erected as the supreme ethical criterion, this ends up as a new dogmatism, because it excludes all other positions, which can be licit only as long as they remain subordinate to, and do not contradict, this relativistic criterion.
In this way, there is a systematic censuring of Christianity’s moral norms, and excluded from the outset is any attempt to demonstrate that these norms, or any others, have objective validity because they are founded upon the very reality of man. The public expression of an authentic moral judgment thus becomes inadmissible.
This has led to the development in the West of a form of culture that deliberately severs its own historical roots, and constitutes the most radical contradiction possible, not only of Christianity, but also of the religious and moral traditions of humanity (cf. “Europe,” pp. 34–35, and the Regensburg address).
To demonstrate how the limitation of reason to what can be experienced and measured is not only full of negative consequences, but is also self-contradictory, J. Ratzinger concentrates his attention on the structure and the presuppositions of scientific knowledge, and in particular on the position that would like to make of evolutionary theory the universal explanation, at least potentially, of all reality.
A fundamental characteristic of scientific understanding is, in fact, the synergy between mathematics and experience, or between mathematical hypotheses and their experimental verification: this synergy is the key to the enormous and constantly growing results obtained through technology, in working with nature and placing its immense energies at our service.
But mathematics as such is a creation of our intelligence, the pure and “abstract” result of our reasoning. The unavoidable correspondence between mathematics and the real structures of the universe – without which scientific forecasts and technology would not work – thus poses a great question: it implies that the universe itself is structured in a rational manner, such that there exists a profound correspondence between our subjective reasoning and the reason embodied in nature.
It thus becomes inevitable to ask oneself under what conditions such a correspondence is possible, and concretely, if there must not exist a primordial intelligence that is the common source of nature and of our own rationality.
Thus, precisely in reflecting upon the development of the sciences, we are brought back to the creating Lógos, and there is a reversal of the tendency to accord primacy to the irrational, to chance and necessity, and the tendency to reduce to these even our own intelligence and freedom (cf. the addresses in Verona and Regensburg, in addition to “Faith,” pp. 188-192).
Naturally, such a question and such reflection, although they begin from an examination of the structure and presuppositions of scientific knowledge, pass beyond this form of understanding and arrive at the level of philosophical inquiry: this does not conflict, therefore, with the theory of evolution, as long as it remains within the realm of science. And furthermore, even on the philosophical level the creating Lógos is not the object of an apodictic demonstration, but remains “the best hypothesis,” an hypothesis that demands that man and his reasoning “renounce a position of domination, and take the risk of a stance of humble listening.”
In concrete terms, especially in the current cultural climate, man by his own strength is unable to make entirely his own this “best hypothesis”: he remains, in fact, the prisoner of a “strange shadow” and of the urge to live according to his own interests, leaving aside God and ethics. Only revelation, the initiative of God who, in Christ, manifests himself to man and calls him to approach Him, makes us capable of emerging from this shadow (cf. “Europe,” pp. 115-124; 59-60, and the Regensburg address).
The very perception of this sort of “strange shadow” makes it such that the attitude most widespread among non-believers today is not atheism – seen as something that exceeds the limits of our reason no less than faith in God does – but agnosticism, which suspends judgment about God in that He is not accessible to reason.
The response that J. Ratzinger gives to this problem brings us even closer to the reality of life: in his judgment, in fact, agnosticism cannot be lived out in practice; it is not a program for human life that can be carried out.
The reason for this is that the question of God is not merely theoretical, but also eminently practical; it has consequences in all areas of life.
In practice, I am in fact forced to choose between the two alternatives identified by Pascal: either to live as if God did not exist, or to live as if God existed and were the decisive reality in my existence. This is because God, if He exists, cannot be an accessory to be removed or added without any effect, but is rather the origin, the meaning, and the end of the universe, and of man within it.
If I act according to the first alternative, I adopt in point of fact an atheistic position, and not a merely agnostic one. But if I decide in favor of the second alternative, I adopt the position of a believer: the question of God is, therefore, unavoidable (cf. “Europe,” pp. 103-114).
It is interesting to note the profound analogy that exists, under this aspect, between the question of man and the question of God: both, because of their great importance, must be faced with all the rigor and effort of our intelligence, but both are always eminently practical questions as well, inevitably connected with the concrete decisions in our lives.
* * *
At this point, we are able to understand better Benedict XVI’s theological and pastoral approach.
He devotes great attention to the relationship between faith and reason, and to the assertion of the truth of Christianity.
But he does this in a way that is not at all rationalistic. On the contrary, he views as a failure the Neo–Scholastic attempt to demonstrate the truths of the premises of faith (the “praeambula fidei”) through a form of reasoning rigorously separated from the faith itself, and he maintains that similar attempts are also destined to fail, as failure has met the contrary attempt by Karl Barth to present the faith as a pure paradox, which can subsist only in total independence from reason (cf. “Faith,” pp. 141-142).
So in concrete terms, the way that leads to God is Jesus Christ, not only because it is only in Him that we can know the face of God, his attitude toward us, and the mystery of his intimate life itself, of the one and absolute God who exists in three Persons totally “interrelated” – all of the implications of this mystery for our lives and our understanding of God, man, and the world have yet to be elaborated – but also because it is only in the cross of the Son, in which God’s merciful and steadfast love for us is displayed in its most radical form, that a mysterious but convincing response can be found for the problem of evil and suffering, which has always been – although it has new power in our humanistic age – the source of the most serious doubts about the existence of God. For this reason prayer, the adoration that opens us to the gift of the Spirit and frees our hearts and minds, is an essential dimension not only of the Christian life, but also of the believer’s understanding and the theologian’s work (cf. the Verona address; “Introduction,” pp. 135-146; and the 1959 inaugural address at the University of Bonn).
It is not out of mere personal taste, therefore, that Benedict XVI is using “all his free moments” to carry forward his book “Jesus of Nazareth,” the first part of which will be published soon, and portions of the preface and introduction of which have already been released.
The separation between the “Christ of faith” and the real “historical Jesus,” which exegesis based upon the historical-critical method seems to have deepened more and more, constitutes a “dramatic” situation for the faith, because “it brings uncertainty to its authentic point of reference.”
For this reason, J. Ratzinger/Benedict XVI has dedicated himself to demonstrating that the Jesus of the Gospels and of the Church’s faith is, in reality, the true “historical Jesus,” and he does this by employing the historical-critical method. He willingly acknowledges the many positive results of this, but he also goes beyond it, taking a broader perspective that permits a properly theological interpretation of Scripture, and which thus requires faith without dispelling the need for historical seriousness (cf. the published sections of the preface).
This is a matter, for historical criticism as for the empirical sciences, of “making more room for rationality,” and not permitting these to close off within themselves and present themselves as self-sufficient (cf. “Faith,” pp. 136-142, 194-203; “Introduction,” pp. 149-180).
This type of approach to Jesus Christ clearly refers back to the role of the Church and of the apostolic tradition in the transmission of revelation.
In this regard, J. Ratzinger not only upholds the Church’s origin from Jesus himself and its intimate union with Him, centered upon the Last Supper and the Eucharist (cf. “Il nuovo popolo di Dio [The New People of God],” published in Italy by Queriniana, pp. 83-97), but he intrinsically connects revelation to the Church and tradition.
Revelation, in fact, is in the first place the act by which God manifests himself, and not the objectified (written) result of this act.
In consequence, a place in the very concept of revelation belongs to the subject that receives and comprehends it – concretely, the Church – since, if no one perceived the revelation nothing would be unveiled, no revelation would have taken place.
For this reason, revelation precedes Scripture and is reflected within it, but it is not simply identical with this; it is always something greater. There cannot exist, therefore, a pure “sola Scriptura”: Scripture itself is connected to the subject that receives and comprehends both the revelation and Scripture, meaning the Church. Together with this comes the essential meaning of tradition (cf. “My Life,” pp. 72; 88-93).
This is also the profound reason for the ecclesial character of the faith, or better, for the indissoluble interweaving of the “I” and the “we,” of the ecclesial and personal dimensions, in the act of belief that enters into relation with the “Thou” of God, who reveals himself to us in Jesus Christ (cf. “Introduction,” pp. 53-64), as well as the reason for the insufficiency of a purely historical-critical exegesis.
The proposed way of making Christianity convincing again remains, in any case, today as in the beginning and throughout its history, that “of the unity between truth and love in the conditions proper to our times.” This is the meaning of the “great ‘yes’ that God, in Jesus Christ, has spoken to man and his life, to human life, to our freedom and our intelligence” and which, through Christian witness, must also be made visible to the world (the Verona address).
In concrete terms, as by making more room for our reason and reopening reason to the great questions of truth and goodness it becomes possible “to connect theology, philosophy and science [both natural and historical] with each other in full respect for their individual methods and their reciprocal autonomy” (ibid.), so also, at the level of life and practice, in the current context it is particularly necessary to highlight the liberating power of Christianity, the bond that joins Christian faith and freedom, and at the same time to make it understood how freedom is intrinsically connected to love and truth.
Man as such, in fact, is certainly a being “of his own,” conscious and free, but he is just as essentially a being “from,” “with,” and “for,” necessarily open to and in relation with others: for this reason, his freedom is intrinsically connected to the criterion of reality – that is, to truth – and is a shared freedom, a freedom that is realized in the coexistence of many freedoms, which limit but also uphold each other, a freedom that thus builds itself up in charity (cf. “Faith,” pp. 260-264 and, more in general, 245-275).
Vatican Council II’s declaration on religious freedom represented, from this point of view, a decisive step forward, because it recognized and made its own an essential principle of the modern state, without thereby giving into relativism, but rediscovering and implementing instead Christianity’s deepest heritage (cf. the address to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005).
* * *
In the current situation in the West, in any case, Christian morality seems to be divided into two parts.
One of these concerns the great themes of peace, nonviolence, justice for all, concern for the world’s poor, and respect for creation: this part enjoys great public appreciation, even if it risks being polluted by a politically tinged moralism.
The other part concerns human life, the family, and marriage: this is rather less welcome at the public level; even more, it constitutes a very serious obstacle in the relationship between the Church and the people.
Our task, then, is above all that of presenting Christianity not as mere moralism, but as love that is given to us by God and that gives us the strength to “lose our lives,” and also to welcome and live the law of life that is the Decalogue.
In this way the two parts of Christian morality can be reconnected, reinforcing each other, and the ‘nos’ of the Church to weak and distorted forms of love can be understood as ‘yeses’ to authentic love, to the reality of man as he was created by God (cf. the address to the Swiss bishops on November 9, 2006; the Verona address; “Europe,” pp. 32-34). The message for the 2007 World Day of Peace moves precisely in this direction.
But the entire anthropological and ethical approach of Christianity, its way of understanding life, joy, pain, and death, finds its legitimacy and its consistency only in the historical, but above all eschatological, perspective of salvation that was opened up by the resurrection of Christ (cf. the Verona address). J. Ratzinger wrote the book “Eschatology, Death, and Eternal Life,” published in Italy by Cittadella in 1979, on the themes of death, resurrection, and immortality, which we cannot touch upon here.
Until now, our attention has been focused upon the relationship between the Christian faith and the secularized culture of the modern and “postmodern” West, the victim of a strange “self-hatred,” which goes hand in hand with its distancing itself from Christianity.
But J.Ratzinger/Benedict XVI absolutely does not lose sight of a much broader horizon, that of relations with the other cultures and religions of the world, to which he has dedicated a good part of his reflection, especially in recent years.
The key concept to which he refers is that of the encounter of cultures, or “interculturalism,” which is different from both inculturation, which seems to presuppose a culturally denuded faith that transplants itself in various cultures regardless of their religion, and from multiculturalism, as the simple coexistence – hopefully peaceful – of cultures different from each other.
Interculturalism “belongs to the original form of Christianity” and implies both a positive attitude toward other cultures and toward the religions that constitute the soul of these cultures, and the work of purification and the “courageous stance” that are indispensable for every culture if it really wants to encounter Christ, and that become for a culture “maturation and healing” (cf. “Faith,” pp. 66 and 89, the Verona address, and in particular the dialogue on January 19, 2004, between J. Ratzinger and J. Habermas, published in Italy by Morcelliana in 2005 in “Etica, religione e stato liberale [Ethics, Religion, and the Liberal State]”).
Thus it is precisely Christianity that can help the West to tie the knots of that new and positive encounter with other cultures and religions of which the world has such great need today, but which cannot be built upon the foundation of a radical secularism.
In the face of the somehow “excessive” greatness of these tasks, J. Ratzinger/Benedict XVI is certainly not a person who tends to deceive himself about the current state of health of the Catholic Church, and of Christianity more in general.
But he is sure that that “he who believes is never alone,” as he continually repeated during his trip to Bavaria, and also that our faith always has “a possibility of success,” because it “finds a correspondence in the nature of man,” who is created to encounter God (“Faith,” pp. 142-143).
This certainty also sustains our lives and our daily toil.
[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 20/12/2006 20.12]
| 12/23/2006 9:12 PM
| This is an amazing, eye-opening discussion by two Western Muslims and two non-Muslim students of Islam about the Regensburg lecture - and what the actual consensus is in Islam about the points Benedict XVI chose to make and about its mission to - well, I'll use the kindest word - 'convert' the whole world
REFLECTIONS ABOUT THE 'RIGHTNESS' OF REGENSBURG
The Pope and Islam
By Jamie Glazov
December 1, 2006
The Pope’s visit to Turkey highlights the Muslim world's violent reaction to the Pontiff's comments about Islam several weeks ago. What did those comments, and the Muslim world’s response to them, really mean? To discuss these issues with us today, Frontpage Symposium has assembled a distinguished panel. Our guests are:
, a Muslim journalist and author from Istanbul, Turkey. He has written extensively in the Turkish and international press, including many American publications, about Islam and the current Muslim world. His writings are available at www.thewhitepath.com.
, the Chief Legal and Policy Advisor of the Free Muslim Coalition and a member of its Board of Advisors. A commentator on legal issues surrounding counter-terrorism measures and Islamic affairs, he currently serves as an advisor to the New Zealand government and has provided guidance to parliamentary committees on counter-terrorism issues. His works have been published in legal periodicals, newspapers and other media.
, a former BBC commentator and US NEWS and World Report reporter. He is the author of The Sword of the Prophet and sequel Defeating Jihad. Read his commentaries on ChroniclesMagazine.org.
, the world's foremost authority on dhimmitude. She is the author of Islam and Dhimmitude. Where Civilizations Collide. Her latest book is Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis.
Mustafa Akyol, Thomas Haidon, Serge Trifkovic and Bat Ye’or, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.
Thomas Haidon, let’s begin with you.
The controversy over the Pope’s visit to Turkey, as we well know, has been ignited by the Muslim world’s violent reaction to the Pope’s statements several weeks ago. There were calls to kill the Pope, there was the burning of Christian Churches, there was the tragic murder of the nun in Somalia etc.
Let’s begin with this question: if members of a religion are offended at the implication of their religion being violent, what is the logic of reacting with violence?
And where are the “real” Muslims decrying the violent reactions that supposedly taint their "religion of peace"?
Haidon: Thank you Jamie.
The events that have unfolded since the Pope Benedict remarks have been nothing short of disturbing, albeit predictable given recent events and the jurisprudence Islam governing blasphemy.
As a Muslim, while I found the Pope's remarks provocative I was far more disturbed by the collective reaction of the Ummah
. This reaction has presented itself in violent and non-violent form. The subsequent murder of Christians and threats of death and destruction of Christian institutions and communities from Gaza to Bangladesh, coupled with non-violent, but disproportionately vitriolic reaction from many in the Muslim world is likely to only reinforce the Pope's statement on jihad and Islam.
In my view both levels of reaction are blatantly hypocritical
. Seminal figureheads in Islam (including Sheikh Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar in Cairo; Sheikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi; Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Husaini Sistani ) both Sunni and Shi'a have consistently made consistent efforts to publicly denigrate Christianity, Judaism and other faiths through a broad range of medium and fora. The imagery described in their writings and sermons is degrading and specifically designed to dehumanise members of other faiths. The Pope certainly did not engage in such virulent denigration of Islam.
There is undoubtedly a double standard that Muslims must address.
I want to be very careful however to distinguish Muslims and organisations who have criticised the Pope but have not engaged in poisonous, disproportionate and unmeasured criticism. Muslims certainly have every right to be concerned over the Pope's remarks and to partake in legitimate legal protest to countenance those remarks.
I am disturbed by dialogue from some non-Muslim circles which have condemned such protests, as if some Muslims somehow cease being moderate or liberal because they were offended by the remarks. However, the best was to countenance the remarks are to engage in meaningful interfaith dialogue, to which a current framework does not exist.
The current model of interfaith dialogue which superficially focuses on general high level and common traits of faiths has failed. An effective meaningful framework for "safe" dialogue must be developed which also focuses on the "difficult" issues in Islam that Muslims have failed to address
Far too often, questions from Christians and Jews during interfaith dialogue sessions (particularly at the regional level) on aspects of the laws of the dhimma, or jihad are met with accusations of discrimination and vilification, thus rendering such dialogue completely ineffectual, and potentially misleading and destructive.
In my view, Muslims should not place a significant amount of scrutiny on the Pontiff's apparent "misrepresentation" of Islam, but instead should place that scrutiny inward
. I am far less concerned about addressing or changing the Pope's apparent views on jihad, than I am about the views of Muslims, which have been clearly articulated by influential Muslim scholars. Instead of rioting and demonstrating against the Pope, I yearn for the day when I see widespread Muslim anger at the Islamists that monopolise our faith
The Pontiff's remarks must be seen in the broader context of Islamic-Christian relations. Firstly, it is worth pointing out that the Pope is not naive when it comes to Islam (contrary to the views of the Iranian spiritual leader and others), and has evinced a fairly developed understanding of Islam. He certainly appears to be more attuned to the aspects of shari'ah and Islamic jurisprudence governing Muslim/non-Muslim relations
To reiterate, while I viewed the Pope's remarks as provocative, I consider them to be a legitimate challenge to moderate Muslims to commence internal discussions on the problems of violence and intolerance within Islam that have emerged from a number of sources, including the legal prohibition on Muslim scholars in exercising independent and contextual reasoning in Islamic decision-making
( itjihad). Will we rise to the challenge?
As to your final question with respect to the apparent silence of moderate Muslims, I am aware of a number of prominent Muslims and organisations which have condemned the violent reactions (albeit some have superficially), including some Muslims perceived as Islamists.
However I would concur that it does not appear that there has not been a significant proportion of Muslims whom has specifically condemned the violent acts
. I think there may be a number of reasons for this silence.
Firstly, it is worth stating that unfortunately there is some precedence in Islamic history and jurisprudence which gives impetus to the violent reaction against the Pope. The laws of blasphemy under orthodox Islam are fairly well established, embedded and have generally remain unchanged over centuries. In most Muslim countries, moderate Muslims cannot speak on this issue out of fear of being accused of apostasy
In 2005, Sheikh Al- Qaradawi issued a legal ruling on moderate Muslims who challenged the Islamist orthodoxy. His solution to this problem was to declare them "intellectual apostates", subject to death. Moderate Muslims are under siege in these countries.
Several weeks ago, my friend and Sudanese reformer Mohammed Ahmed Mohammed Taha (editor of Al-Wikaf in Khartoum) was beheaded by Islamists sympathetic to Al Qaradawi for the crime of apostasy because he merely printed an article which dared question the Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) ancestral lineage, despite the fact that he disagreed with the content of the article
. This does not bode well for moderate Muslim voices.
A second primary reason for the "silence" of moderate Muslims is the lack of a unified voice. There are many moderate Muslims in the West and in the Muslim world. However they often speak as lone voices. Moderate Muslims do not have a collective power base to be able to speak, in security, in a unified voice.
Trifkovic: The Pope's allegedly objectionable statements in his lecture at the University of Regensburg were taken out of context. He has said and done nothing that a reasonable person of any religious persuasion would find objectionable
His comments were made in the course of a complex theological-philosophical treatise delivered to academics in an ancient institution of higher learning, not in a public homily to the faithful in a square or a cathedral. Had he intended to make a high-profile controversial statement, the chosen venue would have been singularly inappropriate.
His quote of Emperor Manuel II Paleologus was accompanied with an explicit disclaimer that it did not reflect his own views. That disclaimer was far more strongly emphasized in the German original - available to the curious - than in the English-language reportage and commentary.
The purpose of the quote was not to "defame" the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, and his religion, or even to make a comment about Islam per se, but to develop an argument about the relationship between faith and reason
If there is anything potentially offensive to a Muslim ear in the address, it is not the verdict of a learned Byzantine emperor on Muhammad's contribution to the history of ideas - but Benedict XVI's conceivably implied view that Islam is, or may be, unreasonable.
If anyone should feel insulted, it is the blasé, deracinated, faithless, postmodern elite class of the Western world. It was to them that the Pope sent his warning to avoid the contempt for God and the cynicism that deems mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom
. A reason which is deaf to the divine, and which relegates religion to the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures, said the Pope. His true targets understood, and responded with unrestrained animus - notably The New York Times editorialist on September 16
As for the Muslims, the Pope's message came at the end of his address: "'Not to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God', said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor. It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures."
It was an eminently conciliatory and generous message. It could be argued that it was unduly optimistic in tone and excessively conciliatory in its assumptions, in view of Islam's past record on "dialogue
Even had the Pontiff repeated Emperor Manuel's words without the disclaimer, those words should have been judged by their veracity and not by their emotional effect on a supposedly aggrieved group. That Muhammad's major innovation was "his command to spread by the sword the faith that he preached" is not a value judgment, is an "objective" truth. The sentence does not suggest that "Muhammad was evil and inhuman," as most rampaging Muslims seemed to believe, but rather that his original contribution to the edifice of Islam - as opposed to the many elements he had borrowed from Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastranism, pre-Islamic Arab paganism, etc. - was such
The statement may be insulting or painful to some - so much so that they are prepared to kill elderly nuns and put churches to torch to make their point - but it is nonetheless TRUE. The doctrine of jihad - violence in the path of Allah with the objective of converting, killing, or else subjugating and taxing the "infidel" - was Muhammad's most significant original contribution to world history.
It defined Islam in its earliest days, it has defined the relations between "the world of faith" and "the world of war" ever since, and - as we've seen from the reactions to Pope Benedict's lecture - it continues to define the mindset of Islam to this day
"God is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature" is the key statement in Emperor Manuel's verbal duel with his Persian interlocutor. "Faith is born of the soul, not the body."
The world outlook based on this simple yet essential adage is light years away from the Verse of the Sword. That Islam sees the world as an open-ended conflict between the Land of Peace (Dar al-Islam) and the Land of War (Dar al-Harb) is the most important legacy of Muhammad.
Ever since his time, Islam has been a permanent challenge to all non-Muslim polities around it. The Kuranic dictum to fight the rest of us infidels until we "pay the Jizya with willing submission," denies the possibility of permanent peaceful co-existence. "Kill the unbelievers wherever you find them" is an injunction both unambiguous and powerful
I very much agree with Haidon's comments. And I no doubt disagree with what Pope Benedict XIV said about Islam in Regensburg. But I think it is insane to attack churches and Christians because of his comments.
Moreover, I think the Pope has the right to express his views about Islam, whatever they are. So I wouldn't even demand an apology from him, as most Muslims have done
. Instead, I would ask for a dialogue and present him some facts about Islam and would wonder whether he would like to reconsider his views in the light of those facts.
Let me point out to the first fact: Pope Benedict said that the Koranic verse "There is no compulsion in religion" is "one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under [threat]." However, that verse, numbered 2:286, is actually a very late verse. The traditional Islamic consensus was that this verse was revealed in the Medinan period, when Prophet Muhammad and Muslims were not powerless, but in fact, were the rulers of their own state.
This is one reason why the great majority of Muslim scholars accept that forced conversion is against Islam. Again that's why in Islamic lands, non-Muslim religious minorities, especially Jews and Christians were tolerated as "protected" communities. Theirs was a second-class citizenship and thus not very favorable when compared to modern standards, but according to the standards of the medieval times, it was really fine.
That's why Jews of Spain fled to the Ottoman Empire when they were forced to convert to Catholicism in medieval Spain. That's again why you still have many Christian and Jewish communities in many parts of the Islamic world. The Coptic Christians of Egypt, the Christians of Palestine, Iraq and Syria, Greeks, Serbs, Bulgarians, and many others have lived under Islamic states for centuries and they are still there; obviously they are not converted. This does not mean that Islamic history is full of only tolerance; as with every civilization, there are episodes of violence and bloodshed but the Islamic norm was, "no compulsion in religion."
This does not mean, however, that Muslims did not aim to spread Islamic rule by the sword. They did. From the earliest caliphs, Islamic armies went around to have military conquests. This was not, of course, abnormal at all at that time. It was an age of empires and many other states, including the Christian ones such as Byzantium, were trying to extend their borders.
Today, I think the question is whether it is a necessity of the Islamic religion to "spread the Islamic rule by the sword." And my answer is no. There are both peaceful and belligerent verses in the Koran and how we interpret them is the key.
After prophet Muhammad, the expansionism of the Islamic empire led some Muslim jurists to conclude that the belligerent verses abrogated the peaceful ones. Hence came the doctrine of offensive jihad. What Pope Benedict refers to must be this.
However, Islamic jurists had different opinions on this. Imam Shafi was in favor of offensive jihad whereas Imam Hanafi was in favor of only defensive jihad. In today's world, in which all states are bound by treaties — something on which the Koran makes great emphasis — and religious freedom is widespread, there is simply no justification for offensive jihad. The doctrine of abrogation is also rejected by many contemporary Muslims, including myself.
Another issue Pope Benedict has raised is the role of reason in understanding God in Islam. Islam is not monolithic on this either. Pope Benedict's has said, "for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent, His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality."
However this is not the universal Muslim opinion; it was the opinion developed by Imam Hanbal in the 8th century, who formed the most puritanist and rigid of the four major Sunni schools. (Today's Wahhabism is an offshoot of Hanbalism.) At the time of Imam Hanbal, there was another school of thought among Muslims called the Mutazila and they were very rationalist. The Mutazila view was that God was rational and "justice was the essence of God, He could not wrong anybody, he could not enjoin anything contrary to reason." (Karen Armstrong, A History of God, 1993 p. 164)
From the clash between the rationalist Mutazilis and the "traditionalist" Imam Hanbal, a middle ground was created by al-Ashari and that's the most widely accepted theological school today. There is also another school called Maturidi, which is more rationalist than Asharism. (The Maturidis say, for example, that the unaided human mind is able to find out what is evil to a certain degree.)
In short there is not a single, unified Muslim opinion which dismisses reason and opts for blind faith
. On the contrary most modern Muslims think that they are the rational ones and Christians are the irrationalists, by referring to Christian Church fathers like Tertullian who said, "I believe it because it is absurd." Indeed Christianity is not represented solely by Tertullian and Islam is not represented solely by its own irrationalists. We should have the wisdom to see all these details and variations.
I have read the whole text of Pope Benedict’s lecture given at Regensburg University. It is a deep reflection on a learned level regarding the different phases of the bonds between faith and reason. Emperor Manuel’s quote, from which the Pope distanced himself and even slightly criticized, is used merely as an introduction to his topic. He attributes to specialists the dating of Koranic verse 2:286. It is not his own opinion.
I totally agree with Thomas Haidon and will not repeat what he said so well. I think that it is a shame that in the 21st century innocent people should be killed, churches burned, and civilians terrorized because in a European university, in a lecture, a European Pope has quoted a sentence from a 14th century Byzantine Emperor, to which Muslims object. I doubt that those responsible for such criminal behavior even understand the Pope’s lecture.
I would like now to evoke the contemporary circumstances that provoked the observations of Manuel II (1391-1425). From the 7th century onward, the Byzantine Empire was under constant Muslim attacks, first from the Arabs, followed by the Turks. Muslim and non-Muslim contemporary witnesses wrote about whole cities destroyed, populations massacred or reduced to slavery of dhimmitude
I agree with Serge Trifkovic’s view on jihad, a religiously motivated war, which by itself totally contradicts the verse 2:286. The doctrine, legislation, strategy and tactics of jihad are all based on theological texts. Therefore this verse needs to be qualified not only in the historical field, but also and urgently within Muslim theology
The reign of Manuel II was among the most painful years of the dying empire. He lamented the devastation of Morea by the Turkish armies. The situation was the same over the Balkans. In Bulgaria when Tirnovo fell (July 1393), the soldiers were killed and the mass of the population deported. At the battle of Nicopolis (September 1396), 10.000 men were beheaded in Sultan Bajazet’s presence and many more enslaved. There are numerous accounts of destruction, forced conversions, abduction and enslavement of women and children.
Recent research (cf “Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters” by Robert C. Davis) examines the enslavement of Christians by Muslims from 1500 to 1800 in the Mediterranean, as perpetrated by the Maghrebian States. Jews were also victims of this slave-trade. Muslim slavery which can be called religious because it targeted only non-Muslims, was widespread throughout the Levant, the Mediterranean, Europe, Africa and Asia. This went together with the system of dhimmitude – also determined by religious discrimination.
Invoking the victims’ survival to prove Islamic tolerance is like praising slavery because slaves survived until their emancipation. And pretending that dhimmitude was fine by medieval standards is cynical
. One can say that religious persecution existed everywhere, that it was wrong and inhuman, but not that it was fine.
Islamist terror -- today associated with global jihad, genocidal threats, and a poisonous literature of hate -- gives a sinister picture. Ordinary people -- who do not know al-Ashari theories but have to suffer in their everyday lives the constraints and fears of Islamist terror -- do associate Islam with violence. Muslims could correct this view by organizing mass demonstrations against jihad and terror in their 56 Muslim countries. But nothing is done.
On the contrary we see a massive support for Ben Laden, Hamas and Hizbullah. I agree that religious violence unfolded in every society. However Western societies now have created political, social, and cultural institutions that control and neutralize violence. This does not guarantee that it will not erupt again suddenly; it only means that the sources of violence and its channels of transmission must be recognized and suppressed in order to establish peaceful relations between faiths.
Having read the Pope’s lecture, I think that its whole structure might have irritated the Islamists. All through his lecture, the Pope clearly links Christianity to the Bible. Muslim orthodoxy opposes this view because it claims that Islam is the primal religion and sole true revelation. Christianity as well as Judaism is a subsequent and falsified deviation from the Islamic trunk (here).
The Pope mentioned the Christian effort to rationalize faith through Greek philosophy – an endeavor already undertaken by the Jewish school of Alexandria (III BCE) He also stated that Europe’s faith and culture originate from the Bible and the Greco-Roman civilization.
Now many European leaders, intellectuals and Muslims reject this assertion. Chirac declared in 2003 that Europe’s roots are as much Muslim as Christian
. [REALLY!!!! What would be the basis for this 'parity'? Certainly not the sporadic 'Golden Age' in Moorish Spain
!] Many affirm that European culture grew from the Islamic civilization.
This debate (has Christianity developed from Judaism or from Islam?) is the theological version – or the cultural aspect of what is in fact a political issue, which today turns around the refusal of Europe’s Judeo-Christian identity, the legitimization of Turkey’s entrance into Europe and of the introduction of shari’a law and Muslim customs within Europe.
At the outset, I must admit that when engaging with others on Islam, I deliberately endeavour to avoid the "equivalency trap", that is, attempting to compare Islam's travails with those of Judaism and Christianity (which have developed methods and frameworks through hermeneutics, to address doctrinal issues). I find that engaging in equivalency-type arguments tends to obfuscate the real issues and challenges facing Islam and prevents honest analysis of those issues and challenges.
While I agree with some of Mr Trifkovic's points in relation to the benign nature and motivation behind the remarks of the Pontiff and the disproportionate Muslim response, I wholeheartedly disagree with his unbending characterisation of Islam as a whole.
To be sure however the collective of failure of Muslims on a wide scale to truly engage in the reform and liberalisation of Islam is a prime catalyst for such criticism.
I cannot be entirely dismissive of Mr Trifkovic's characterisation of the so called "lesser jihad" as there is ample material in the Qur'an, and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad and Islamic jurisprudence to corroborate this.
I am in complete agreement, with Bat Ye'or that jihad has to be immediately qualified within Islam by Muslims. The re-introduction of itjihad into Islamic decision-making would be a positive step in this regard.
I am generally agreement with Brother Akayol. Importantly, he illustrates that Islam and Muslims cannot be painted with a singular, broad brush, and that within Islam there are a variety of views and opinions. I applaud him for taking a measured and balanced view of the Pope's remarks.
I do not necessarily agree with his view however that the Pope should be presented with facts about Islam with a view towards reconsidering his remarks. I am considerably less concerned with the Pope's possible misunderstanding of jihad, than I am of my co-religionists. It is Muslims who are "misinterpreting" Islam, and this is where focus should really lie
Future engagement with the Pope or inter-faith dialogue more generally will remain futile, and perhaps dangerous, if Muslims cannot first clarify these misinterpretations amongst ourselves in the first instance. The time for "self-victimisation" needs to come to an end.
I am grateful for Brother Akayol's discussion on nansakh (abrogation) in the Qur'an. Far too often, abrogation is ignored by Muslims engaged in discussions with non-Muslims of da'wa efforts. However, it is a juridical reality and an impediment that Muslims must face in addressing and reconciling Meccan and Medinan verses.
The common understanding that many of the earlier verses are abrogated by later verses is commonly accepted among all four madhab (schools of thought) as well as Sh'ia jurisprudence. I disagree with Brother Akayol in his assertion that abrogation can be rejected outright in Islam (although I would like to see this occur).
Abrogation cannot be rejected, as the doctrine is not merely a man-made jurisprudential aid (as is qiyas) but contained within the Qur'an. Few moderate scholars have wholeheartedly rejected abrogation. Moderate Muslim scholars including Muhammad al-Ghazali have advocated for the restrictive use of abrogation.
It is important to note that there is no concerted, widespread effort to reject or limit the effect of the doctrine, so not to render verses espousing peaceful relations with non-Muslims as void (as many scholars in the Muslim world have advocated). The failure to address abrogation should be viewed as major impediment (among others) to reforming Islamic hermeneutics.
Similarly, I am grateful for Brother Akayol's acknowledgement that there is (contemporarily and historically) a diversity of views within Islam on the scope of jihad and qitaal. Unfortunately, while this diversity of opinion may exist, the discourse is dominated by the advocates of aggressive/offensive jihad which include Al-Azhar, Ikhwan al-Muslimun, Wahabism, Salafism (among other entities) and their collective leadership.
I am also intrigued by the assertion that the moderately rationalistic teachings of Abu Al Hasan Al Ashari are "the most widely accepted theological school today". Rationalism in most forms has disappeared from intra-Islamic scholarship and has been viewed by many high profile scholars, including Sheikh Tantawi as bidah (innovation
I am in general agreement with Bat Ye'or who has provided some important historical context to the discussion and has made measured observations about what Muslims should be doing, but are failing to do.
Let's first set the record straight on the verse "la ikraha fiddeen" ("no compulsion in religion"), as it has great relevance for the proper understanding of the Pontiff's main point.
Verse 2:256 is not at all "one reason why the great majority of Muslim scholars accept that forced conversion is against Islam." In reality, no mainstream Islamic scholar accepts today, or has ever accepted over the past 13 centuries, that 2:256 leaves non-Muslims free to make their religious choices unmolested and un-coerced, in accordance with their conscience and free will.
Some contemporary Islamic scholars explain that there is, indeed, no compulsion in making that choice - but once it is made, the options are bleak - death or submission - for those who make the "wrong" choice
: "Faith and rejection, iman and kufr, cannot be forced upon one by others. So Islam does not say that others must be forced into Islam; that if they become Muslims, well and good, and if they do not, they are to be killed, that the choice is theirs."
In the same spirit, there was no compulsion to accept Communism under the 1936 Soviet constitution, but the price of its insufficiently enthusiastic embrace was fatally steep for some tens of millions of Zeks.
The difference among Islamic scholars on 2:256 is that of degree, not kind
Some assert that it has been abrogated not only by 9:5 but also by 9:73 ("O Prophet, struggle with the unbelievers and hypocrites, and be thou harsh with them").
Other scholars - more "tolerant" ones, we might say - said 2:256 has not been abrogated, but it had a special application: it was revealed concerning the People of the Book (Jews & Christians), who should not be compelled to embrace Islam if they submit to the rule of Islam and pay the Jizya. It is only the idol worshippers who are compelled to embrace Islam and upon them 9:73 applies.
As al-Nahas points out in An-Nasikh wal-Mansukh, "this is the opinion of Ibn 'Abbas which is the best opinion due to the authenticity of its chain of authority." In exempting the Jews and the Christians from 2:256, the ulema agree that pagans and atheists can and should be compelled to accept Islam by force.
The foremost Islamic scholar of all time, Ibn Khaldun, summed up the mainstream consensus - the consensus that is valid to this day - when he defined systemic violence as a religious duty based on the universalism of the Muslim mission and the obligation to convert all men to Islam either by persuasion or by force. He readily concedes that "Islam is under obligation to gain power over all nations."
For individual Muslims to say that they disagree with this position, or to reject the doctrine of abrogation, is simply irrelevant, because the consensus remains unshaken (and we've been through this many times before); but for them to claim that their heterodox disagreement implies the existence of a wide array of opinion in "mainstream" Islam is misleading
Let me add that the orthodox Islamic rationale for compulsion - e.g. that given by Ibn al-'Arabi - is worthy of dialectical materialism's somersaults; we find that "no compulsion" actually means compulsion, and freedom is only the freedom to accept revealed truth:
"The Prophet said: I have been ordered to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah. This Hadith is taken from the words of Allah, 'Fight them until there is no more tumult and religion becomes that of Allah'. (2:193)
"If someone asks how can people be compelled in the truth when the mere fact of compelling indicates a violation of the will of the one compelled? - the first answer is that Allah sent Mohammad calling people to Him, showing the way to the truth, enduring much harm ... until the evidence of Allah's truth became manifest ... and His apostle became strong, He ordered him to call people by the sword ... hence there is no more an excuse after being warned.
"The second answer is that people first are taken and compelled, but when Islam becomes prevalent ... their faith strengthens and finally becomes sincere."
Translated into the language of contemporary and equally mainstream Islamic discourse, with "reasonable" people there is no need for compulsion because "after all the clear proofs, the logical reasoning and the manifest miracles there is no need for force at all."
But with those who persist in their obstinate refusal to be reasonable and convert (or submit), coercion is both legitimate and necessary. After all is said and done, the authorities at al-Azhar hold, jihad is "a divine obligation: the Muslim is always mindful that his religion is a Qur'an and a sword ... the Muslim is forever a warrior."
Comparing the early spread of Islam by the sword with the tendency of other past empires to expand by force is misleading because the Islamic empire was unique in its universalistic proclamations. Unlike Rome, Byzantium, Persia, Spain, etc., it knew no natural limits short of turning the entire world into Dar al-Islam; imperialism is immanent to Islam
, as Ephraim Karsch argues so eloquently.
The apologists assert that Muslims are called by the Kuran to strive for peace, but the "peace" is possible only under an all-pervasive Islamic rule. Such "peace" does not only have the negative meaning of the absence of war. It is a positive state of security, attainable once all infidels are killed, converted or subjugated.
This is exactly the same definition of "peace" as that used by the Soviet empire in the period of its external expansion (1944-1979): attainable only after the defeat of "imperialism as the final stage of capitalism" and the triumph of the vanguard of the proletariat in the whole world.
And by the way, the Mutazila school or al-Farabi were as "Islamic" as Voltaire was "Christian
." Yes indeed, they held that God was rational and "justice was the essence of God," etc. but that was over a millennium ago, and persecution, exile, and death were their reward
The resulting "middle ground" - supremely prevalent to this day - may use the rational form, but in substance it is implacable in the view that only Allah creates our acts and enables us to act, and we are but transmission belts with a preordained balance of debit or credit that determines our destiny in the hereafter
. Even the salaat is a payment of debt, not communication, and it is offered in the hope of placating a capricious and unpredictable Master. The Master, Allah, is so transcendent as to be devoid of personality
As then-Cardinal Josef Ratzinger wrote back in 1979, "the unrelated, unrelatable, absolutely one, could not be a person. There is no such thing as a person in the categorical singular." In the end, Allah the unknowable and un-personable, is served out of fear, obedience, and hope of bountiful heavenly reward.
Islam explicitly rejects the notion that "he who has my commandments and keeps them, he is it who loves me." (John, 14:21) The Kuran states the opposite: "Say, If ye love Allah, follow me; Allah will love you and forgive you your sins." (3:31) This "love" is a means of winning love and forgiveness. It is the "love" of the self.
If "Islam is not represented solely by its irrationalists," it is undeniably dominated by them - to the extent of making rationalist dissenters irrelevant at best, and heretical apostates at worst. The willingness of a few rationalists to risk such designation may be laudable in human terms but it will do absolutely nothing to modify Islam as a doctrine
As Sir William Muir noted a century ago, a reformed faith that should question the divine authority on which the institutions of Islam rest, or attempt by rationalistic selection or abatement to effect a change, would be Islam no longer.
Pope Benedict is aware of this important fact, and for that insight he will not and cannot apologize. A timely reminder of that reality, rather than another futile round of "interfaith dialogue," is the lasting benefit of the Regensburg controversy.
[Part 2 follows
[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 23/12/2006 22.09]
| 12/23/2006 10:26 PM
ABOUT THE RIGHTNESS OF REGENSBURG - II
The Pope and Islam
By Jamie Glazov
December 1, 2006
Mrs. Bat Ye'or defines my argument that "dhimmitude was fine by medieval standards" as "cynical." Well, then, let's ask this to the "survivors" of that "dhimmitude." Turkey's Jewish community can be a good point of reference.
In 1989, they established The Quincentennial Foundation, which was an initiative to thank the Ottoman Empire and its Turkish inheritors for saving Jews from the religious tyranny of Catholic Spain and some other medieval Christian states. Established and run by prominent members of Turkey's Jewish community, the foundation's documents declare:
Ottoman rule was much kinder than Byzantine rule had been. In fact, from the early 15th century on, the Ottomans actively encouraged Jewish immigration. A letter sent by Rabbi Yitzhak Sarfati (from Edirne) to Jewish communities in Europe in the first part of the century "invited his coreligionists to leave the torments they were enduring in Christendom and to seek safety and prosperity in Turkey".
When Mehmet II "the Conqueror" took Constantinople in 1453, he encountered an oppressed Romaniot (Byzantine) Jewish community which welcomed him with enthusiasm. Sultan Mehmet II issued a proclamation to all Jews "... to ascend the site of the Imperial Throne, to dwell in the best of the land, each beneath his Dine and his fig tree, with silver and with gold, with wealth and with cattle..."
... In 1492, the Sultan ordered the governors of the provinces of the Ottoman Empire "not to refuse the Jews entry or cause them difficulties, but to receive them cordially. "According to Bernard Lewis, "the Jews were not just permitted to settle in the Ottoman lands, but were encouraged, assisted and sometimes even compelled."
... Over the centuries an increasing number of European Jews, escaping persecution in their native countries, settled in the Ottoman Empire... In the free air of the Ottoman Empire, Jewish literature flourished.
... On October 27,1840 Sultan Abdulmecid issued his famous ferman concerning the "Blood Libel Accusation" saying: "... and for the love we bear to our subjects, we cannot permit the Jewish nation, whose innocence for the crime alleged against them is evident, to be worried and tormented as a consequence of accusations which have not the least foundation in truth..."
Naim Avigdor Güleryüz, the vice president of The Quincentennial Foundation and the curator of the Jewish Museum in Istanbul, speaks about the "the remarkable spirit of tolerance and acceptance which has characterized the whole Jewish experience in Turkey... [and] in the Ottoman Empire.”
Yet this whole experience is supposed to be a part of "slavery of dhimmitude" according to Mrs. Ye'or. What are we supposed to make of this contradiction?
I suspect it points to an ideological bias towards Islam, which is even more dominant in the writings of Mr. Trifkovic.
Mr. Trifkovic makes a great deal about forced conversion. We have just discussed this issue here on Frontpage, so I won't repeat everything I have said there. My take on that is clear:
According to the Qur’an, religious freedom is well-established. Ban on apostasy is a later development, which grew out from political considerations.
"Islamic imperialism" was also basically a political phenomenon; conquests took place not to force people to convert to Islam, but to expand the territory of Islamic states. The rule of these states was not egalitarian to non-Muslims, so it was not acceptable in modern standards, but it was far from the bloody tyranny portrayed by Mrs. Ye'or and Mr. Trifkovic.
That's why some of the heterodox Christian communities in the Middle East welcomed the early conquests of Islam, which they saw as more tolerant than their Byzantine rulers.
According to Thomas Brown, historian at the University of Edinburgh, "Coptic- and Aramaic-speaking Monophysites in Egypt and Syria saw their Arab fellow Semites as deliverers from Greek tax-gatherers and orthodox persecutors" and the early Islamic Empire under Umayyads (661-750) was for them "a regime which resembled a benign protectorate rather than an empire." (Thomas Brown, "The Transformation of The Roman Mediterranean", in The Oxford History of Medieval Europe, George Holmes, ed. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1988, pp. 11, 12)
I would also strongly suggest a concise piece about Islam's political history by a Christian author, Mr. Jerald Whitehouse, the director of the Global Center for Adventist-Muslim Relations.
Mr. Trifkovic also speaks about slavery. Yes, unfortunately, slavery was a fact in the pre-modern Islamic world, like it was in the West until the 19th century. I am sure Mr. Trifkovic has heard about something called the American Civil War and why it erupted.
You could tell me that Islamic world lags behind modernization and medieval attitudes still prevail in some Muslim communities. And I would completely agree. But if you tell me that Islam has brought nothing to the world but "slavish dhimmitude," coercion, and bloodshed, I would tell you that you are wrong and biased. People have the right to hate Islam for personal reasons, but they don't have the moral right to distort history to simply bash it.
Mr. Trifkovic's likening of Mutazila or al-Farabi to Voltaire is also deeply erroneous; Voltaire was not a Christian, he was a deist; followers of the Mutazila school or al-Farabi were all self-declared Muslims and today there are many Muslim intellectuals who cherish their heritage.
The most startling distortion I have seen here is about Muslim theology. Mr. Trifkovic says, "salaat is a payment of debt, not communication." I don't know how he came to this conclusion, but millions of Muslims practice their salaat (daily prayers) to thank and praise God, based on the Koranic command, "I am Allah, there is no god but Me, so worship Me and establish salat to remember Me." (20:14) Salaat is basically a ritual to raise and maintain God-consciousness and that's why it "precludes indecency and wrongdoing" (29:45)
And, again despite Mr. Trifkovic's assertion, Allah is not far from love. Quite the contrary: one of the 99 names of God in Islam is Al-Wadud, which means "Most Loving." Dozens of verses in the Koran explain the good morals that Allah loves. Several verses, like 3:134, confirm, "Allah loves the good-doers."
A final reminder: the term "Allah" simply means "the God" in Arabic and we Muslims believe that He is the God of Abraham. So we are certain that He is also the God of Jews and Christians.
Thus the effort to portray Him as "capricious and unpredictable" sounds quite predictable when it comes from aggressive atheists like Richard Dawkins, but it is sad to see a few Christians like Mr. Trifkovic voicing this insult to God, too. I can only hope for their deliverance; for they know not what they do.
I am pleased to see that Mr. Haidon is much more open than others to different arguments and that he accepts that the traditional Islamic view of non-Muslims needs urgent and necessary consideration from Muslim scholars.
In view of the current international interactions between different faiths and the rise of Islamic radicalism, this is a long overdue duty, essential for the peace of the planet.
It is true that, following in the steps of Edward Said, the West has produced a host of apologetic works and this did not encourage self-criticism. In an indirect way, we are somehow responsible for a lack of stimulating debate and for having neglected many brilliant Muslim dissidents.
Maybe it is the West’s servility that causes rejection and contempt by Muslims for the opinions of non-Muslims about their own dhimmi history and destiny as subjected peoples. This attitude of denial and even hate suppresses all possible interactions and progress to build common views. At least Mr. Haidon’s honest assessment of the situation opens the way for improvement.
Trifkovic’s view makes clear the type of options open to non-Muslims. The choice between conversion, submission, or war is essential to jihadist ideology and this has been in force for over a millennium and on three continents. Millions of people have suffered from jihad. Muslim as well as non-Muslim chronicles provide us with countless details and vivid descriptions on the manner in which Koran 2:256 was applied.
Muslim scholars explain clearly in their numerous treatises on jihad the conditions that have determined these options. In some cases there was not even a choice, like for instance in the case of the massacres of the idol worshippers, or because the conditions of war were not clearly defined.
We cannot assume that scholarly opinions decided the course of every event. We have to distinguish between abstract, legal discussions in mosques and the human realities linked to jihad ideology and warfare on the ground.
For instance, al Baladhuri (d. 892) writes – among so many other Muslim and non-Muslim chroniclers – that all the countryside of Mesopotamia and the Levant were taken without treaty. The Arabs raided throughout Palestine and Syria, and treaties were given only to the large towns. The peasantry was killed or enslaved.
This is the general pattern of all the military expeditions from Andalusia to India. And one found the same thing during the conquest and Islamization of Anatolia and the Balkans. One must also distinguish between the organized military campaigns and the continuous raids practiced against infidel territories.
We see that there is an official theological and legal context, well analyzed by Trifkovic, but there is also a much wider historical and complex field that has greatly shaped the unfolding of events and the Islamization of the conquered lands.
Was there no religious compulsion when Christian children of both sexes were, for centuries under the Ottoman, taken into slavery and converted to Islam? Or when Jewish orphans were abducted and put into Islamic orphanages in Yemen? In both cases, parents were forced to abandon their children under pain of death. Deportations of Jewish and Christian villagers were recurrent under the Ottomans, while Muslims colonizers were privileged.
Even now we can observe the discrepancies between an idealized theory and the reality, when forced conversions of Christians erupted in the Moluccan Islands in 2000, or violence against non-Muslims in Afghanistan, Iran or Iraq gave little choice to the populations concerned.
Continuous pressure and discrimination, like today in Egypt, for instance, lead to conversions. In view of these facts and the deafening silence of the Muslim elite, the relative tolerance of 2: 256 seems an abstract formalism, rarely respected by Muslim leaders. Because when we speak of “no compulsion in religion”, it means religious equality -- and this never happened.
It is true that this situation prevailed in Christian lands also, but intellectuals denounce it rather than accepted it.
As for Mr. Akyol, he persists in seeing dhimmitude as a privileged situation limited to the relationships between the Ottoman and the Jewish communities. And to prove his point he quotes moving extracts of gratitude from a dwindling Turkish community.
But Mr. Akyol, I can find many more declarations of dhimmi gratitude and even adoration for Muslim leaders. I have published a letter to the sultan from Armenians in Biredjik (Turkey) in March 1896, stating that their admiration and love for Islam inspired them to immediately convert. Another one was sent to praise the virtues of the governor of Dyarbakir -- and three weeks later he had the whole Armenian population there killed.
The history of dhimmitude is full of Christian praise for Islam and venomous accusations against Christian enemies of the dar al-harb. It is enough to see today the hatred of the Palestinian churches for what they call the “false American Christians”. Their hatred exceeds even that of the Taliban.
This is not to deny Ottoman’s welcome to the Jewish refugees from Spain in 1492, which is a fact, but this event does not encapsulate the whole history of jihad and dhimmitude that started long before the Ottoman Empire, in the seventh century and today persists on a world level.
It has encompassed myriads of people, not only Jews and Christians, but also Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Hindus, and Africans. Most of these people have been wiped out of their homelands, like the Buddhists and Hindus in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Zoroastrians in Iran, the Greeks and Armenians in Turkey.
In Africa, the Christian and pagan kingdoms were devastated by repeated incursions for the slave trade that was conducted on religious grounds, unlike the Atlantic trade which was racially motivated and started much later, in the fifteenth century. Dhimmi gratitude has always been requested to prove Islamic grandeur and superiority over Christianity. Sometimes it is justified, but at others, not.
The simplistic reasoning of Mr. Akyol overlooks the period of strict enforcement of dhimmi’s servitudes, including under the Ottomans, and Muslim violent opposition to their emancipation as sought by the European powers. It is England and America who tried to stop the slave-trade practiced in the Ottoman Empire by piracy or military expeditions, with its genital mutilation of eunuchs.
Sultan Abdulmecid’s edict relates to a blood libel accusation leveled in his empire, in Damascus (Syria) brought against the Jewish community by his own vassal, the Egyptian governor together with the French consul. The ferman was issued under strong pressure from England, Prussia and Austria after some Jews, including children, were jailed and some died under torture.
In short, those facts which illustrate only Islamic protection, and to which many others can be added, cannot be used to praise and justify the theological and legal institutions of jihad and dhimmitude, which transfer to the Muslim authority the individual basic human rights of non-Muslims to life, security, freedom and religion. They cannot overshadow the complex texture of thirteen centuries of dhimmitude from Afghanistan to Spain, from Hungary south to Nubia.
Mr. Akyol’s persistent refusal to face the realities of dhimmitude and to insist continually on Christian antisemitism – as if one would excuse the other – points to an incapacity for self-criticism. It indicates a hatred toward those who dare examine an Islamic political system which they are not allowed to criticize according to the shari’a. It corresponds to the law that punishes by jail any mention of the Armenian genocide and the Turkish pressure on the European states to accept Ankara’s view.
But if we want a true dialogue in order to foster peace and mutual respect, we must first get rid of arrogant and insulting behavior toward those whose testimony is different from what we want to hear -- albeit true.
Haidon: Neither I nor Mustafa need to apologize for every transgression (and they are almost innumerable) committed in the name of Islam.
At the same time, however, we must acknowledge (without qualification) that throughout Islamic history Muslims have used Islam to oppress non-Muslims and commit other acts of barbarism. To be sure, there have been pockets in Islam's history where Muslim/non-Muslim relations could be construed as have been peaceful and non-oppressive, but the overwhelming historical and legal sources indicate that such pockets certainly did not constitute the norm.
Brother Akayol and Mr. Trifkovic have entered into a substantive debate on the topic of compulsion in Islam, so I will not partake into a full debate on this now, but I find Mr. Trifkovic's citation and reliance on the statement of Ayatullah Morteza Mutahhari, to show how their is compulsion in Islam, as if this view is a mainstream view to be irresponsible, as a shoddy practice for someone of Mr. Trifkovic's stature. The opinion cited is a minority opinion. You would be hard pressed to find opinion by many ulema in the West who would sustain that view. Nonetheless, history and contemporary events cannot be ignored and this issue must be confronted intra-Islam.
With much respect to Mr. Trifkovic, I found some of his argumentation flawed and erroneous. His characterisation of the Muta'zilites as being as "Islamic" as Voltaire was Christian, illustrates not only ignorance about the rationalist movement, but a clear tendency to dismiss without any substantive discussion reform movements or efforts. I wonder if Mr. Trifkovic could argue the same for modern scholars like Fazlur Rahman, Abdullahi Na'im, Khaleel Mohammed and other true reformers, as not being "Islamic".
Similarly, Mr Trifkovic's remarks about salaat are baseless and completely wrong as are his remarks about the lack of "personality" of Allah (refer to Brother Akayol's citation of the 99 attributes of Allah). Salaat is our primary communication with Allah, and is not merely a ritualistic "payment". Salat in Islam is indistinguishable in purpose from Christianity or Judaism. Du'a or supplication is also an essential companion to salaat.
While Brother Akayol does not need me to defend him, I can honestly and without qualification say that he is one of the most introspective and self-critical contemporary Muslims I know. I too share his frustration.
At the same time, I feel that Brother Akayol might be placing too much emphasis in defending Muslim history. Again, while I recognise that there have been periods within Islamic history where there has been peace and relative equality between Muslims and non-Muslims, in Muslim states, I believe they are far and few between.
By criticising Muslim history, we are not condemning Islam itself, we are condemning the hermeneutical approaches developed by men to interpret Islam. We must acknowledge that the laws of the dhimma have no place in modern civilization, and are a direct affront to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Bill of Rights.
While I disagree with Bat Ye'or's characterisation of Brother Akayol's rejoinder, I respect her analysis and do not contest her historical overview. Having seen the devastating impact of actual and de facto dhimmitude on Christians and other non-Muslims in Egypt, Sudan and Palestine, I understand that it is a systemic issue and one which must be confronted.
I will never forget the plight of a Christian family who were forced from a Gazan town because they would not capitulate to Hamas terrorists to pay them jizya.
On many occasions, the "moderate" Qaradawi and Tantawi have defended, in their entirety, the laws of the dhimma.
In my view, meaningful inter-faith dialogue, in which Muslims participate, cannot occur without intra-faith dialogue within Islam taking place. Within that intra-faith dialogue Muslims must debate openly, and develop contextualist and rationale methods of interpreting the body of Islamic jurisprudence. The failure to do so will hold grave consequences.
Trifkovic: Oh, dear: we seem to have strayed not only from the topic but also from common courtesy. So be it, let's get on with it and start with the most important point of all: do we all "believe in the same God"?
Of course we do not.
The formal argument first. It is clear and fairly simple. The Christian God of the Creed is trinitarian: the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things seen and unseen; the Son, our Lord and Savior, eternally begotten of the Father; and the Holy Spirit, the giver of life. This is the orthodox faith, "which except a man shall have believed faithfully and firmly he cannot be in a state of salvation."
The doctrine of the Deity of Christ is essential. Unless the Son is truly God and "one with the Father," Christians would be idolaters. If He were but a prophet, Christians would be foolishly entrusting themselves to a created creature in the vain hope of salvation.
Islam, on the other hand, violently and explicitly rejects and condemns the Christian doctrine of God (Kuran 4:171), the Trinity (5:37), and the deity of Christ (5:72, 5:17), and Allah unambiguously condemns Christians as disbelievers worthy of destruction (9:29-30).
Muhammad's insistence that there is a heavenly proto-Scripture and that previous "books" are merely distorted and tainted copies sent to previous nations or communities means that these scriptures are the "barbarous Kuran" as opposed to the true, Arabic one. (Let's leave aside for a minute the puzzling question of how any degree of "distortion" of the Kuran could produce either an Old or a New Testament.)
The Muslim Tradition also regards the non-canonical Gospel of Barnabas, and not the New Testament, as the one that Jesus taught. To cut the long story short, orthodox Islam teaches that it alone worships one true God that Judaism and Christianity tell lies about - lies for which Christians and Jews will be punished in hell.
"One God" cannot be trinitarian and infinitely transcendent. Christians and Muslims cannot be both right. Their convergent paths do not lead to the same hilltop.
The substantial argument: The widespread belief in the non-Muslim world that Islam accords respect to the Old Testament and the Gospels as steps in progression to Mohammad's revelation is mistaken
. Modern Muslim apologists try to stress the supposed underlying similarities and compatibility of the three faiths, but this is not the view of orthodox Islam.
Unlike the Christian faith in God revealing Himself through Christ, the Koran is not a revelation of Allah - a heretical concept in Islam - but the direct revelation of his commandments and the communication of his law. Christian God "comes down" and seeks man because of His fatherly love. The Fall cast a shadow, the Incarnation makes reconciliation possible.
Allah, by contrast, is unknowable and so purely transcendent that no "relationship" is possible. He reveals only his will, not himself. Allah is "everywhere," and therefore nowhere relevant to us. He is uninterested in making our acquaintance, let alone in being near to us because of love. We are still utterly unable to grasp his purposes and all we can do is what we have to do, to obey his command.
Allah's absolute transcendence means that he cannot be fathomed, only worshipped. It is by virtue of being infinite, not loving, that he is inseparable from his creation. His absolute sovereignty means that his "closeness" to man is not a two-way relationship; man's experience of Allah is impossible. Any such attempt would imply heretical encroachment on his absolute transcendence.
Ultimately, Allah's absolute transcendence means that he is everything and nothing. He cannot be grasped by the human mind and is greater than we can comprehend. Every thought about him is insufficient and false.
No, this is emphatically not the "same God" a Christian or a Jew believes in. Judging by Islam's fruits through the ages we'd be fully justified to suspect very different origins of Muhammad's "inspiration."
Regarding slavery I have "heard about something called the American Civil War and why it erupted," but in addition to not believing in the same God we seem not to have the same understanding of American history. Unlike some members of this panel, I have also heard about something called "states' rights" that greatly complicates the seemingly simple morality play of 1861-65.
In reality Christendom is the only civilization in history to have created from within itself a successful movement to condemn and abolish slavery. It is a matter of historical record that other civilizations, and most notably Islamic civilization, have not achieved this. The world of Islam has never striven to do so without external prompting. To this day the only places in the world where one can buy a slave for ready cash are Moslem countries, e.g. Mauritania and Sudan.
While both the Old and New Testaments recognized slavery, the Gospels do not treat the institution as divinely ordained. The slaves are human, and all men are equal in the eyes of God regardless of their status in this life: "there is neither Jew nor Greek," says St. Paul, "there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." Slavery was to early Christians a fact of life, and a thing of men.
The Kuran, by contrast, not only assumes the existence of slavery as a permanent fact of life, but regulates its practice in considerable detail and therefore endows it with divine sanction.
Muhammad and his companions owned slaves, or acquired them in war. Muhammad's scripture recognizes the basic inequality between master and slave, and the rights of the former over the latter (Kuran, 16:71; 30:28).
The Kuran assures the Muslim the right to own slaves (to "possess their necks") either by purchasing them or as bounty of war (58:3). The prophet of Islam had dozens of them, both male and female, and he regularly sold, purchased, hired, rented, and exchanged slaves once he became independently wealthy in Medina after the confiscation of Jewish property.
In line with the racist views of Muhammad about his own people, the Arabs, as "the nobles of all races," in Islam's heyday only Arabs were exempt from enslavement.
Divine sanction of slavery in Islam means that disobedience to one's master carries everlasting punishment, while obeying the master is the slave's only path to paradise (Mishkat al-Masabih, Book I, Hadith No. ii, 74). Under sharia the slave has no legal powers or rights whatsoever - but a Muslim slave-owner is explicitly entitled to the sexual enjoyment of his slave women.
The Koran mandated that a freeman should be killed only for another freeman, a slave for a slave, and a female for a female (2:178). The Tradition says that "a Muslim should not be killed for a non-Muslim, nor a freeman for a slave" (The Commentary of al-Baydawi, p. 36).
The slave trade inside the Islamic empire and along its edges was vast. It began to flourish at the time of the Muslim expansion into Africa, and it still survives. The Spanish and Portuguese originally purchased African slaves for their American colonies from Arab dealers.
There are notable differences between the slave trade in the Islamic world and the trans-Atlantic variety. The former has been going on for 13 centuries and it is an integral feature of the Islamic civilization, while the influx of slaves into the New World lasted less than three hundred years and effectively ended by the middle of the 19th century.
It is estimated that ten to twelve million Africans were taken to the Americas during that period. The number of captives taken to the heartlands of Islam-while impossible to establish with precision-is many times greater. Nevertheless, there are tens of millions of descendants of slaves in the Americas, and practically none in the Muslim world outside Africa. They were not allowed to have families, and most men were brutally castrated even before reaching the market.
The abolitionist sentiment in Europe and America was inseparable from Christian faith and world outlook. William Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect, inspired by the Wesleyan Revival, lobbied for abolition and finally succeeded in having the legislation adopted at Westminster that abolished slavery in the British Empire and turned Britain into a determined foe of slave traders everywhere. The evangelical revival movement provided momentum to the abolitionist movement in the United States.
Islam provides no analogous abolitionist imperative. Black people had been enslaved on such a scale that in Arabic the term black became synonymous with slave. The mixed-race, predominantly Negroid but self-avowedly "Arabic" denizens of the transitional sub-Saharan zone were indoctrinated into treating their completely black southern neighbors with racist disdain. (To this day it can be dangerous to one's life to ask a dark-looking but Arabic-speaking Sudanese or Mauritanian Muslim if he was "black.") The collaborators eventually surpassed their Arabic mentors in raiding tropical regions to capture slaves, mutilating the males by radical castration, raping females, and depopulating entire regions in the process.
"As a man thinketh, so is he." The real problem of the Muslim world is not that of natural recourses or political systems. Ernest Renan, who started his study of Islam by praising its ability to manifest "what was divine in human nature," ended it-a quarter of a century and three long tours of the Muslim world later-by concluding that "Muslims are the first victims of Islam" and that, therefore, "to liberate the Muslim from his religion is the best service that one can render him."
The West is yet to learn, fully, the lesson that my Balkan ancestors were forced to learn six centuries ago: that Islam is a collective psychosis seeking to become global, and any attempt to compromise with madness is to become part of the madness oneself.
The quarrel is not of our choosing, and those who submit to that faith must solve the problem they set themselves.
Thomas, thank you so much. I very much appreciate your work, too. You argue that Islam should be saved from medieval traditions and its principles should be reinterpreted in the modern context — and that's exactly what is needed.
I of course accept that in the history of the Islamic civilization there are so many episodes that we would not accept today. And we would indeed flatly denounce. Yet this does not mean unfair criticism of that civilization should be accepted.
The trouble with Mrs. Ye'or's approach is, as I have noted before, she judges the history of the Islamic civilization by modern standards. The historical method is, however, to compare a historical phenomenon with its contemporaries. That's why I mention medieval Christianity along with medieval Islam. It is not a "my religion's history is better then yours" argument.
Yet Mrs. Ye'or continues to judge medieval Islam according to "the individual basic human rights of non-Muslims to life, security, freedom and religion," which are all modern concepts. The Declaration of Human Rights is a product of the Enlightenment, not the Spanish Inquisition. (On the other hand, the advance of these modern concepts in contemporary Islamic world is very slow and that's indeed a major problem.)
As for Mr. Trifkovic, actually I would refrain from getting into an argument with people who simply — and disrespectfully — insults my religion with terms like "collective psychosis." Neither I nor a billion Muslims who find peace, dignity and happiness in Islam need to be "liberated" from it.
Just to simply point to two of his most obvious distortions: If Trinity makes the God of Christians another God than that of Islam, then the same would apply for Judaism, too. Jews, of course, don’t believe in Trinity. But most Jews and Christians agree that they believe in the same God. His whole description of the Islamic concept of God is also distorted; I know no such God.
As for the Koran's stance on Christians, he overlooks many positive verses, like "... nearest among [men] in love to the believers wilt thou find those who say, 'We are Christians': because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant." (5:82)
The Sunni orthodoxy, which was influenced by the political needs of the early Muslim empire, invented the doctrine of abrogation within the Koran in order to override such tolerant verses in favor of the more belligerent ones. And this is a big problem.
But the abrogation doctrine is rejected by many modern Muslims — including myself, and Thomas I guess — and this means that the tolerant verses of the Koran would be the general rule and the belligerent ones would be seen as contextual— related to war situations. This would mean the rejection of jihadism — an ideology of permanent war. And this is actually what the majority of the world's Muslims would agree with today. One would need to be in "'psychosis" to believe that they are all jihadists and that's the only possible interpretation of the Koran.
Mr Haidon’s position represents a real opening in what appeared until now to be a cemented Muslim wall of historical denial. No one asks for apologies. People today are not responsible for acts committed centuries ago, although the Church has apologized to the Muslims for the Crusades.
But if we want to open a meaningful dialogue, we have to start from a minimum consensus, and this is that all human beings are equal. It is from that common base that we can recognize the injustice of ideologies, institutions and policies. The aim of this acknowledgement is not to prove the superiority of one creed over others, it is to create a dynamic of social and political improvements.
I do not understand how Mr. Akyol can allege that I am judging medieval Islam according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, when I am simply giving historical facts. If one follows his argument, history would never have been written. However, many examples I gave are not medieval, there are contemporary.
We are living now – with terrorism – a period of global jihad. Abductions are perpetrated nowadays in Lebanon, Iraq, Israel, in Sudan and Darfur, and even in Egypt where young Coptic girls are kidnapped. Innocent civilians are beheaded in Iraq today, while orphan Jewish children were abducted from their family in Yemen until the departure of the Jews in 1948-50. The Taliban imposed discriminatory colors for the few Hindus in Afghanistan, and oppressed women. And dhimmitude exists till now.
Of course, no one can suppress all these injustices committed against Muslims and non-Muslims if it is not the Muslims themselves. And to do that, they have to see them and discuss them openly and decide to act. It is their responsibility toward Muslims, Islam, and the world.
FP: Mustafa Akyol, Thomas Haidon, Serge Trifkovic and Bat Ye’or, thank you for joining Frontpage Symposium.
Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's managing editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. He is also the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left and the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union (McGill-Queens University Press, 2002) and 15 Tips on How to be a Good Leftist. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at email@example.com.
[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 25/12/2006 23.43]
| 12/26/2006 12:12 AM
| The premise of this interesting exchange from the December 2006 issue of FIRST THINGS is compelling: In elaborating his interpretation of what Jesus's descent to Hell on Holy Saturday means, was the eminent theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar contradicting the Magisterium and therefore heretical on this point?
CLARIFYING JESUS'S 'DESCENT TO HELL' - I
Alyssa Lyra Pitstick, who holds a doctorate in theology from the Angelicum in Rome, says so, on the basis of her doctoral dissertation, Light in Darkness: Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Catholic Doctrine of Christ’s Descent into Hell, which will soon be published by W.B. Eerdmans.
Her views are rebutted by Edward T. Oakes, S.J., who is the author of Pattern of Redemption and many other works on the thought of Balthasar. He teaches theology at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois.
Balthasar, Hell, and Heresy:
Alyssa Lyra Pitstick / Edward T. Oakes, S.J.
First, Ms. Pitstick
Hans Urs von Balthasar once keenly observed what makes someone an ecclesial theologian: “It is quite clear that anyone who practices theology as a member of the Church must profess the Church’s Creed (and the theology implicit in it), both formally and materially. This profession is made formally, by positing the ecclesial act of faith; materially, by accepting the ecclesial contents of the faith.”
In other words, what ecclesial theologians say should reflect the beliefs they hold and those beliefs are to be the ones held by the ecclesial community. In virtue of their common profession, the theologian bears a name in common with the preexisting community of faith.
This ecclesial relation suggests why the community can correct and even censure members who reject its common doctrine. Both formal and material professions serve as a lamp to guide and correct the work of the ecclesial theologian with the light of faith—and to enlighten any adequate evaluation of that work.
For Catholics (like Balthasar), the definitive profession is expressed in Scripture, tradition, and the Church’s Magisterium as these are inseparably united
What then are we to think when Balthasar himself radically reinterprets a perennial doctrine of his ecclesial community, the doctrine of Christ’s descent into hell? When he retains the form in its general expression but changes the content to the point of contradicting the original?
Balthasar is counted among the most influential theologians of the past century, being widely read and respected. Only his unexpected death, three days before the ceremony, prevented him from being made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II.
By reputation, he is generally considered a conservative theologian. He wrote a book about how important it was to him to be Catholic. Of all people, one might reasonably expect Balthasar to qualify as an ecclesial theologian. But does he meet his own criteria?
It is a question asked reluctantly; however, the doctrine in question is by no means marginal to Christian faith: The mystery of Holy Saturday stands with Good Friday and Easter Sunday at the center of Christ’s redemptive work. What one believes of Christ’s descent into hell necessarily affects what one believes about Christ and salvation through him
The contrast between Balthasar’s theology of Holy Saturday and the traditional Catholic doctrine confronts us with the grave but necessary question whether the work of a theologian so reputably Catholic is in fact compatible with the Catholic faith
Traditionally, Christ’s descent has been seen as the beginning of the manifestation of his triumph over death and the first application of the fruits of redemption. Gloriously descending to the souls of the holy men and women who had died before him, Christ bestowed on them the glory of heaven and the fullness of freedom.
He did not suffer in hell; rather, in virtue of his redemptive death on the cross, he opened to the holy souls the gates of heaven that had been closed due to sin. Notable for its ancient origin and the unusual consistency of its profession, this doctrine of a triumphal descent is part of the heritage of all Christians. It was held universally in both Christian East and West until the Protestant Reformation; the Catholic Church and the Orthodox have continued to profess it without interruption.
Balthasar argues, however, that this doctrine does not do justice to the depths to which Christ went for man’s redemption or, consequently, to his love.
Rather, Christ must have suffered after death the full force of what would have awaited sinful mankind without a redeemer: complete rejection by the Father without hope of mercy or reconciliation. By descending into this utter abandonment, Christ bore the punishment humanity deserved, thereby manifesting the extreme extent of God’s love.
Balthasar agrees that Christ’s descent should be called glorious, but in the sense that Christ’s crucifixion, rather than his resurrection, is said to be his glory. Balthasar thus retains the form of the profession of faith but with a content other than the traditional one of his ecclesial community. Like the Catholic Church, Balthasar professes Christ descended into hell, but he means something radically different.
Balthasar had acknowledged the act of faith as normative in both its formal and material aspects. How then could he, a man of such Catholic repute and enormous intellectual gifts, have set forth the material content of the verbal profession so differently?
Certainly the definitive answer is known only by God, who sees the heart. But four possible explanations of a more general and accessible character suggest themselves:
(1) Balthasar was ignorant of the content of the Church’s profession,
(2) he knew it but did not think it was normative,
(3) he knew it was normative and saw his own as a development of it, or
(4) he knew it was normative but nonetheless proposed something else in its place.
We may legitimately ask which explanation is most fitting in order to consider whether Balthasar’s doctrine is a product of ecclesial theology.
The first possibility is untenable: Balthasar’s biographers compete for superlatives to describe his intelligence and extensive reading in literature and theology, and Balthasar himself discusses or alludes to the traditional Catholic doctrine in several places.
The second possible explanation, that Balthasar did not think the material profession was normative, also seems unsustainable. Balthasar knew what the traditional doctrine was, while his biographers and those who knew him personally stress his lifelong concern to be an ecclesial thinker. An original thinker, yes, but a maverick or dissenter, no.
His observation that the allegiance of faith pertains both to its form and its content was written in the final years of his life and does not appear to reflect a change in his consciousness of the theologian’s responsibility.
Might it be, then, that Balthasar knew that the Church’s explication was normative but saw his own as a development of it? Surely it does the most justice to Balthasar as a noted scholar and a professed Catholic to examine his work based on this assumption. Let us look then at the doctrine and Balthasar’s proposed development in more detail.
The traditional doctrine of Christ’s descent into hell can be summarized by four points
• The sinless human soul of Christ, united to his divine person, descended only to the realm of the dead reserved for the souls of holy individuals, called the limbo of the fathers
Hell, as any abode of the dead other than heaven, has progressively lost the breadth of meaning it once had, and much confusion about Christ’s descent is due to this fact of linguistic history.
Historically, hell could refer to any or all of the following: the hell of eternal punishment, purgatory, the limbo of the fathers, or the limbo of the children. (The limbo of the children — today just called limbo and the subject of some theological controversy — would be the eternal abode of those individuals who died without personal sin but also without the grace of justification; in contrast, those liberated from the limbo of the fathers had received that grace.)
If, then, Catholics profess Christ descended into hell, we must ask which “hell” the Catholic Church intends. Catholic teaching has consistently and unambiguously held that Christ descended in soul only to the limbo of the fathers. For the sake of those who are squeamish of talking about separated souls being in places, we may say just as well that Christ’s soul joined the company of other holy souls.
• He then liberated the just from the limbo of the fathers, conferring on them the glory of heaven
. Having accomplished mankind’s redemption in the blood of his cross, Christ distributed the first fruit of his sacrifice.
• In doing so, his power and authority were made known to all the dead, both good and evil, and to the demons
• Because Christ descended in his sinless soul as the all-holy redeemer, his descent was glorious in a way similar to his resurrection, and he did not suffer in hell.
Although this traditional doctrine of Christ’s descent has not been defined by an ecumenical council in resolution of controversy or proclaimed in an extraordinary manner by papal authority, it has consistently been held as an authentic and authoritative doctrine of Catholic faith
. To doubt that would be to doubt not only the testimony of history but also the authority of tradition itself and of the Church’s ordinary Magisterium.
The doctrine is expressed in Scripture; in papal statements, conciliar documents, and other forms of magisterial teaching such as official catechisms; in the creeds; in the diverse eastern and western liturgies; in the consensus of the Church Fathers, the doctors of the Church, and the saints; and in the sensus fidelium expressed in sacred art.
The elements of the doctrine go back to apostolic and patristic times, attain particular systematic integrity in the scholastic period, are reaffirmed as Catholic doctrine in response to the challenge of the new Protestant doctrines of the Reformation, and are reiterated in the present day in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Balthasar proposes notable changes to this doctrine. He rejects the idea of the limbo of the fathers, holding instead that Christ descended to the place (or state) of eternal punishment.
Balthasar prefers to call this abode Sheol rather than hell, in part because he holds that Sheol is something worse than hell. There, Christ suffers the fate of unredeemed mankind: complete rejection by the Father. The Father’s rejection is just, since Christ is “literally ‘made sin’” in Sheol. Balthasar thinks that sin is something like a substantial reality due to the energy invested in it by the sinner.
This idea has been criticized elsewhere for philosophical reasons, but merely to illustrate it here we might say that, by sinning, a person not only forfeits the good he might otherwise have become but also perverts that potentially positive part of his reality into something negative.
Existing as a sort of immaterial reality, sins can be separated from sinners and actually transferred to Christ during his passion. Thus, he logically must suffer their full punishment if they are to be expiated.
The full significance of this burden is apprehended in Sheol. In place of the visio Dei
, Christ has a visio mortis
as he contemplates the repulsive horror and self-isolation of sin’s selfishness.
Balthasar stresses that Sheol is not a place, however, but a condition and thus an intimate spiritual reality. Hence, just as a soul is united to God through the beatific vision (the visio Dei
), so likewise Christ, in virtue of his visio mortis
, does not merely “see” sin objectively outside himself but is subjectively united and conformed to it: He is “literally ‘made sin.’” Or, what is the same, sin becomes embodied (technically, enhypostasized) in the Son.
The Father’s rejection of sin thus takes the form of his abandonment of the Son in Sheol beneath the crushing weight of divine wrath against evil. Hence, Christ’s agony does not cease after his death but rather increases as he suffers the pain of eternal punishment. Despite the limited time his body lay in the tomb, Christ experiences the Father’s abandonment as eternal, both because such timelessness is essential to the punishment of unredeemed sin and because his suffering must embrace all time if it is to atone for the sins of all time.
As the Son of God, however, Jesus had a unique intimacy with the Father. Consequently, the Father’s rejection is far worse for Christ than for other men. It is, Balthasar says, proportional to the divine love between the Father and the Son. Christ’s agony in Sheol thus is immeasurably greater than the punishment of hell for any and all other sinners: Through the visio mortis
, he is conformed to what is contrary to himself, the anti-divine reality of sin; he is rejected by the Father in proportion to his filial intimacy; and he undergoes this wrath on behalf of all sinners, suffering for each and every one of their sins.
Christ can undergo all this only because he is divine. As he is conformed to all sin, his human nature is “shattered” in Sheol by “a certain ‘stretching apart’ . . . which remains physiologically indescribable.” Just as Balthasar thinks that, in order to become human, the Son actually left behind with the Father divine attributes such as omniscience, so even this attenuated humanity of Christ’s will ultimately be stripped away. His descent thus is a conflict between the substantial love of God and the substantial selfishness of sin:
With the removal of the whole superstructure of the Incarnation, the eternal will of the Son within the Trinity to obedience is exposed . . . as the substructure that is the basis of the entire event of the Incarnation: and this is set face-to-face with the hidden substructure of sinful existence, exposed in Sheol. . . . Now it is precisely this face-to-face confrontation between the “naked” God and “naked” sin that shows that Jesus’ solidarity even with the utter lostness of sinners presupposes the uniqueness of his condition [that is, his filial divinity].
In this way — and only in this way, Balthasar insists — is redemption possible: For sin is brought inside the Son when he is literally made sin in Sheol; thus it is brought into the relationship between the Son and the Father; and thus it is finally brought into the love between them, the Holy Spirit.
Despite the sin and wrath they experience, each divine person continues to give himself to the other two out of love. In this way, the trinitarian love engulfs sin, thereby destroying it. Christ’s descent into hell is glorious because God’s invincible (or “ever greater”) love is revealed in the very conditions that present the greatest resistance to it.
Balthasar’s doctrine differs so strikingly from the Catholic tradition’s on so many essential points one wonders what elements are retained that might qualify it as a development.
True, Christ descends to hell — though not exactly the Christ of Catholic tradition, for, according to Balthasar, Christ descends not so much in his human soul united to his divine person but ultimately in his divinity alone: Christ’s humanity is “stretched” until “the whole superstructure of the Incarnation” is stripped away.
The Son descends to hell — though not to the abode for holy souls, but rather to Balthasar’s Sheol. The Son’s descent is glorious — though not as the tradition has it, with Christ’s sinless human soul manifesting itself in a glory like that of his imminent resurrection and conferring the beatific vision on the holy dead but rather with the “glory” of the divine love persisting despite its internal embrace of sin. Christ’s power and authority are manifested in the realm of the dead and a way to heaven is made open — though not in the way these things were understood to have been done from the time of the early Church.
The disparity between the two doctrines is manifest also in their different soteriological roles. In Balthasar’s theology, Christ’s descent is expiatory rather than being the first application of the fruit of salvation. Also, the passivity of Christ’s suffering in Sheol differs from the authoritative action traditionally ascribed to him.
Moreover, the received Catholic theological tradition holds that Christ’s death on the cross was satisfactory in virtue of the preeminent qualities of his person, that is, his divine excellence and his perfect charity.
In contrast, Balthasar’s soteriology of Christ’s descent depends on quantitative penal substitution: In the place of all sinners, Christ suffers the punishment for all sins. Humanity is redeemed by Christ’s cross insofar as the guilt of all sins is actually transferred to him there, but these sins remain to be expiated in Sheol through his suffering their punishment in place of the sinners who deserved it.
In short, it is difficult to see Balthasar’s theology of Christ’s descent as a development of the traditional Catholic doctrine. He retains the formula Christ gloriously descended into hell but invests it with a radically different meaning, maintaining the formal profession while replacing the material profession.
Thus, contrary to all expectation, it seems we are left with no choice but the fourth possible: Balthasar knew the traditional material profession as normative but nonetheless proposed something else in its place.
In fact, examination of Balthasar’s theology reveals that his doctrine is largely original to him. Although he generally attempts to present it as a rereading of historical sources, one finds he ignores or rejects the most widespread and authoritative of such.
His selected pre-Reformation sources generally are ambiguous, open to readings consistent with the tradition, not authoritative, or used not only out of context but also against their context.
The source with most telling influence on Balthasar is Adrienne von Speyr, a woman under his spiritual direction and a convert from Protestantism, while the seminal idea that Christ suffered in some way during his descent may be traced back to Nicholas of Cusa and the doctrinal heirs of his proposal, Martin Luther and especially John Calvin.
The unity of faith and the nexus mysteriorum
are just two ways to describe the fact that the mysteries of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection are all knit together. The work of God in Christ is a seamless garment. To change the profession, formal or material, of one mystery will ultimately have a ripple effect through all.
Balthasar’s essentially new doctrine of Christ’s descent raises the question whether one can still believe in the Christ professed by one’s ecclesial community if one consciously rejects the descent it professes, just as the same question would be raised if one rejected Christ’s resurrection, his incarnation, the Trinity, or any other article of the creed.
In fact, we have seen that the Christ whom Balthasar proposes descended into Sheol is not the same Christ whom the pre-Reformation and Catholic tradition professes descended to the limbo of the fathers.
Also at issue is the authority of the tradition that specifies the material contents of the formal act of faith. This matter is brought to the fore in theologies of Christ’s descent, because the descent occurred beyond the reach of any eye and hence can be approached only on the basis of faith and its submission to revealed truth.
The most explicit scriptural testimony is obscure, however, while the invocation of other passages to clarify those texts is already dependent on a tradition of interpretation and belief. Hence, necessarily, either one relies on Christian tradition as a sure guide to God’s revelation — or one rejects such tradition in whole or in part.
The consequences of rejection give pause. If tradition is necessary, then without it theology becomes subjected to fallen reason’s fancy — and unaided reason ultimately cannot fail to err in a subject matter so beyond its capabilities.
Like all the mysteries of faith, Christ’s descent into hell is an endlessly rich source for theological reflection. Nonetheless, its character as a mystery does not preclude certain things being affirmed as true and others being denied as false. Though the fullness of the mysteries of faith transcends human reasoning, God revealed these mysteries not to confound the human intellect but that we might know the truth about him in order to love and serve him as his holy people.
Then, too, as Balthasar had said, the ecclesial theologian adheres to the creed’s implicit theology, that is, to the community’s reasoned understanding of its belief as this consensus has been transmitted through history.
The Church’s tradition is implicit in her formal profession of faith; since tradition specifies what the words have meant to the believing community, it is the material content. If the verbal formula exists for the sake of conveying its content, then the words alone are insufficient for ecclesial communion.
In other words, since words are significant for their meaning, to reject the material content of profession is identical to rejecting the belief the community has handed down, which is to reject the community formed by common belief and consequently to separate oneself from that community — even if, all the while, one retains the verbal formula.
Unfortunately, regardless of the openness with which one reads Balthasar’s works or the sympathy one may have for him personally, it is undeniable that his theology of Christ’s descent entails a de facto, and sometimes even conscious, rejection of Catholic tradition.
Thus, Balthasar’s work fails to adhere to an essential element of Catholic ecclesial theology and its standard of truth. Indeed, he contradicts it on a matter central to the gospel of redemption and to Christian faith. Confronted with this curious circumstance of an admired theologian whose work stands in opposition to the faith of his professed ecclesial community, even the most respectful inquiry would have to conclude, however reluctantly, that something went gravely awry in Balthasar’s execution of the task of ecclesial theologian.
Copyright (c) 2006 First Things 168 (December 2006): 25-31.
[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 26/12/2006 0.13]
| 12/26/2006 12:34 AM
| Here is Balthasar scholar Fr. Oakes's rebuttal to Ms. Pitstick, from the same issue of FIRST THINGS
CLARIFYING JESUS'S 'DESCENT TO HELL' - II
Baltazar, hell and heresy
By Edward T. Oakes, S.J.
Hans Urs von Balthasar is a disturbing theologian. Even among some of his most vocal enthusiasts, he seems “not quite right.” Nor has this diffidence been much assuaged by John Paul II’s evident admiration for the theologian, shown most incontrovertibly when the pontiff named him a cardinal in 1988.
Nor are the anxiously orthodox much allayed by Pope Benedict XVI’s praise of him in October 2005, on the occasion of the hundreth anniversary of his birth.
And surely the central reason for that uneasiness is — despite his self-proclaimed orthodoxy — Balthasar’s claim that Christ descended into the depths of hell in order to rescue, at least potentially, all those “spirits in prison who disobeyed God long ago” (1 Pet. 3:20).
Alyssa Pitstick claims that this thesis directly contradicts the limpid and always consistent teaching of the Magisterium on the mystery of Holy Saturday, which perhaps finds its clearest and most univocal formulation in this sentence from the recently promulgated Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.”
To be sure, this version of the Catechism was published after Balthasar died, and so he cannot be blamed for dissenting from that particular sentence, at least as formally taught. But that is not much of a defense, for the sentence was evidently formulated with him in mind.
We know this because Christoph Cardinal Schönborn (archbishop of Vienna and chairman of the drafting committee of the Catechism) said so: “The brief paragraph on Jesus’ descent into hell keeps to what is the common property of the Church’s exegetical tradition. Newer interpretations, such as that of Hans Urs von Balthasar (on the contemplation of Holy Saturday), however profound and helpful they may be, have not yet experienced that reception which would justify their inclusion in the Catechism.”
Admittedly, Schönborn does provide here a certain amount of room for discussing Balthasar’s apparently revolutionary theology of Holy Saturday, and he even leaves open the possibility that it might later become part of the Church’s orthodox teaching.
This is a prospect that the Catechism itself seems to point to, for it asserts that “the Church prays that no one should be lost. . . . If it is true that no one can save himself, it is also true that God ‘desires all men to be saved’ (1 Tim. 2:4) and that for God ‘all things are possible’ (Matt. 19:26).”
With that passage, Balthasar would certainly agree, only adding that it is both a logical and a psychological impossibility to pray for something for which there is antecedently no hope — a hope that for him can be justified only in the love of Christ that is victorious even over hell.
I do not know if Pitstick holds with St. Augustine that hope for universal redemption is antecedently impossible, but she certainly insists that Balthasar’s own way of providing theological grounds for that hope contradicts Church teaching.
In her reading, the Church has recognized only a glorious entrance by Christ into hell, and since glory is antithetical to darkness, Christ therefore did not — or rather could not —suffer in true hell, the place of the damned, where only darkness reigns. Thus Christ descended into hell solely to redeem those located in the so-called limbo of the fathers.
Frankly, I dispute her tendentious reading of the tradition. Back in his days as Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict wrote a book called Eschatology
, where he faced this issue directly:
God himself suffered and died. . . . He himself entered into the distinctive freedom of sinners, but he went beyond it in that freedom of his own love which descended willingly into the Abyss.
Here the real quality of evil and its consequences become quite palpable, provoking the question . . . whether in this event we are not in touch with a divine response able to draw freedom, precisely as freedom, to itself.
The answer lies hidden in Jesus’ descent into Sheol, in the night of the soul which he suffered, a night no one can observe except by entering this darkness in suffering faith. . . . It is a challenge to suffer in the dark night of faith, to experience communion with Christ in solidarity with his descent into the Night. One draws near to the Lord’s radiance by sharing his darkness.
The parallels with Balthasar’s theology here are more than obvious, which Ratzinger makes even more explicit in the afterword to the English edition, written in 1987 during his tenure as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
In this afterword, he praises Balthasar’s trilogy as a “great triptych” and singles out for special laudation the last volume of Theo-Drama (the one specifically devoted to this theme) for “its profound analysis of the essence of Christian hope, the pain of God, judgment and consummation.” Indeed, he goes further and raises the large claim that this final volume “makes a foundational contribution to a deepening of the theme of eschatology.”
I am not trying to give retroactive infallibility to these lines simply because they happen to have been written by a future pope. But they certainly do show that Balthasar’s theology of Christ’s descent into hell has entered into the thinking of the highest reaches of the Church’s Magisterium
Pitstick, however, labors under the impression that Balthasar’s views are so outré and bizarre that they even call into question the honesty of his professed desire to be regarded as an orthodox Catholic theologian.
Of course, his views are not right just because they have more theological warrant than Pitstick wants to grant. Balthasar’s theology is not without problems.
When one of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s graduate students allowed how much he regretted the Church’s condemnation of Origen’s doctrine that God would eventually abolish hell and redeem the whole world (including the devils), the philosopher shot back: “Of course it was rejected. It would make nonsense of everything else. If what we do now is to make no difference in the end, then all the seriousness of life is done away with.”
And in his book A Rumor of Angels
, the sociologist and Lutheran writer Peter Berger insists that “the argument from damnation” points to a world beyond this one: We all feel, Berger argues, that certain crimes are so wanton that no punishment, not even execution or life in prison, could suffice for justice to be done.
In other words, there can be no theodicy without hell, no genuinely transcendent justice without eternal damnation. If the drama of salvation is to be a divine comedy, and not just a hollow, sick, and empty existentialist joke, it has to include an inferno.
But such objections, worries, and demurrals are one thing; Alyssa Pitstick’s full-bore attacks on Balthasar quite another.
To start with, her reading of the tradition insists that Sheol (the vaguely conceived underworld of the Hebrew imagination) was pre-differentiated, so to speak, into various regions. Ancient views of the underworld, whether from the Old Testament, Homer, or other pre-Christian sources, were undoubtedly vague. But that vagueness for her was due to the darkness of minds that had not yet received the fullness of revelation.
That, however, is an epistemological point. The various regions had already been divided up into impermeable sections, however unbeknownst to pre-Christians.
In her view, before the coming of Christ on earth, the underworld already consisted of (1) a hell of the damned, to which Christ did not go; and (2) a limbo of the just ones, where Christ went to free these antecedently just souls from their (presumably unjust?) captivity.
Indeed, in her forthcoming book, though not in her article here, she actually goes so far as to identify this pre-Christian limbo with the Catholic concept of purgatory — a strange innovation on the tradition coming from such an über-traditionalist as herself. (With the exception of Cato the Younger, all the denizens of Dante’s Purgatorio are baptized Christians, and even Cato is placed in what Dante called “ante-purgatory,” from which he never ascends into purgatory proper.)
Because Pitstick’s reading of the tradition is so monochromatic, she is forced to trace the provenance of Balthasar’s apparently recherché views not to the Bible, and certainly not to tradition, but to such figures as German cardinal Nicholas of Cusa, Martin Luther, and John Calvin.
Because she seems to regard that genealogy as probative merely by mentioning it, I gather she disapproves of Protestant influence on Catholic theologians — and we have already learned that a theologian’s status as a cardinal clearly cuts no ice with her.
But in response to her implied accusations of Lutheran and Calvinist influence, I will up the Protestant ante even further. In my reading, the strongest Protestant influence on Balthasar was not Luther or Calvin but Karl Barth, who gets no mention in either Pitstick’s article or her new book.
In Balthasar’s view, Barth was the first theologian in the history of Christian thought who found a way of reconciling St. Paul’s theology of the atonement with Luther’s and Calvin’s (and Augustine’s) theory of predestination.
He did this by showing that the entirety of God’s foreordained decree for the human race — whether to save or to damn — came to focus first and above all on his Son, who submitted himself to God’s reprobation. And since reprobation is what brought hell into being in the first place, Barth is led to this conclusion:
It is a serious matter to be threatened by hell, sentenced to hell, worthy of hell, and already on the road to hell. On the other hand, we must not minimize the fact that we actually know of only one certain triumph of hell — the handing-over of Jesus — and that this triumph of hell took place in order that it would never again be able to triumph over anyone. We must not deny that Jesus gave Himself up into the depths of hell not only with many others but on their behalf, in their place.
Pitstick would no doubt regard this passage as equally dubious —and certainly at least as much in conflict with previous Church tradition — as anything that Balthasar might have written. To which I think he would respond: If one is going to object to Barth here, one is not so much objecting to the Reformers as to St. Paul.
As anyone who has read his influential book on Barth knows, Balthasar did not subscribe to Luther’s notion of a merely forensic justification, whereby we gain access to heaven by faith alone, a faith which tells us we have been acquitted in God’s courtroom, as it were, by a kind of legal fiction, even while we continue to stay stuck in the same mire of sin as before.
But for Balthasar, even if the Reformers went awry here, at least they took St. Paul seriously, and ecumenical discussion will go nowhere in his view unless both sides return to a serious reexamination of Paul on his own terms.
In other words, the whole point of Balthasar’s book on Barth was not to make Luther or Calvin canonical authorities for Catholic theology (nor, of course, to rule them out of bounds either, in the manner of Pitstick, just for being Protestant). Rather, he wanted to bring Paul’s doctrine of atonement back into the center of Catholic debate, especially these verses: “For our sake God made him [Christ] to be sin, who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21), and “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by being cursed in our stead”
I think I can explain Balthasar’s interpretation of these passages by citing a remark from St. Anselm, the medieval Benedictine who became the archbishop of Canterbury in the twelfth century. He shocked his fellow monks at a colloquy one day when he told them that he would rather God condemn him to hell, even if he had committed no sins, than that he be allowed into heaven with the soil of sin still staining his soul.
No doubt Anselm was speaking here, as was his wont, of what God “has to be” by definition: that is, the All-Holy, who by nature cannot admit sin into his presence. But, however unawares, he was also making a christological point.
For could the persons of the Trinity be less willing to follow such a logic than was a medieval monk? Has not Anselm inadvertently expressed the Trinity’s own reasons for the incarnation? Do we not now see why a merely forensic view of justification will ultimately break down logically?
In the face of this logic, and above all in her studied refusal to come to terms with Paul’s theology (even quite independently of Reformation theology), Pitstick has only one option left, and she takes it: In her book, she says quite openly that “tradition” (meaning of course her tradition) trumps all of Scripture, and not just St. Paul:
Although little attention has been paid to ascertaining the original intentions of the human authors [of the Bible], and developments in theological precision have not been discussed, as [is] typical in contemporary Scriptural exegesis, the premise for this procedure is simple: All the authors considered desired to speak the truth God has revealed and confided to His Church.
They themselves would have been the first to desire their words be used and interpreted in accord with the faith of the Church, especially in those cases where they did not see the truth as fully or clearly as those who followed them. This having been said, the texts employed for this chapter were selected for their clarity and orthodoxy.
This procedure is an example, I believe, of what is called the argument from desperation. For one thing, it contradicts Church teaching. Vatican II’s decree on revelation, Dei Verbum
, explicitly asserts that the “teaching office of the Church is not above the word of God, but serves it,” and Pius XII solemnly taught that the inspired meaning of the sacred text is located in the original intent of each author, which can be determined only by looking at each author’s unique historical context
One is left to wonder if Pitstick has pre-selected her passages because she suspects other passages of their unorthodoxy. Granted, some passages in the Bible might lack clarity — but orthodoxy too? She avoids Paul’s Letter to the Romans as if it were radioactive — and no wonder, because nearly every line of that epistle can be brought in to refute her thesis of a pre-Christian purgatory. For it is precisely Paul’s point in Romans that no one is just in the sight of God after the first sin of Adam
Presumably the denizens of the Pitstickian purgatory would be Jews who obeyed the Mosaic law or pagans who kept the natural law — or, if they failed in their legal duties, somehow managed to repent before death, though they would had to have done so without benefit of knowing the cross of Christ by which those sins would have been known as sins.
But for Paul, obedience to either law is irrelevant, since Jew and pagan are equally guilty, and precisely because their knowledge of obeying the law brings knowledge of their true sinfulness: “All men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin. . . . For no human being will be justified in God’s sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:9b, 20).
As to Pitstick’s odd notion of a pre-Christian purgatory, one must recall Thomas Aquinas’s insistence that mortal and venial sins are not two different species of the genus “sin” the way birch and beech trees are equally trees. For St. Thomas, only mortal sin is sin in the true sense.
This means that if Christ went down solely to purgatory (where only venial sins are purged, along with the lingering effects of forgiven mortal sins), then his atonement for sin — real sin —has been “emptied of its power” (1 Cor. 1:17).
If I might put the matter in John Milton’s mythological terms, what could prove more pleasing to Satan than to hear reports of a newfangled theology that claims his realm has been left intact, not invaded or broken into by the ruler of the universe? As Lucifer says of his new abode in the dungeons of Tartarus in book 1 of Paradise Lost:
Here at least
We shall be free; the Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure; and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven
My chief worry about Pitstick’s position is not her totalizing attack on Balthasar. We are, after all, dealing with Christian theology’s most crucial issue: God’s intentions for the world.
What worries me instead is that she seems to have an alternative vision of the gospel that would, in time, turn Good News into bad, hope into despair, trust into anxiety, and love into fear — and this despite John’s admonition that “there is no fear in love, for perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).
The Beloved Disciple is obviously not encouraging sentimentality or moral laxity here, for two chapters earlier (at 2:1–2) he grounds that fear - expelling love not in wishy-washy liberalism or an avuncular indulgence of sin but in the entirely objective fact of universal redemption: “My little children, I am writing this to you so that you do not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Just One. He is the expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
Copyright (c) 2006 First Things 168 (December 2006): 25-31.
| 1/1/2007 5:15 PM
Hans Urs von Balthasar's name has been turning up in my trollings these past few days. Besides the 'debate' I've posted about, I als posted in POPE-POURRI part of an article that deals with the relationship between Baltasar and the younger Ratzinger.
Now, here's a really lengthy article - a monograph, I suppose we might call it, in Balthasar's terminology - on "The Fathers, the Scholastics and Ourselves" which gives us the full flavor of Balthasar's thinking, methodology and theological approach - not to mention his language (even if this is a translation from German by the same Balthasar scholar Fr. oakes who bylines the article in the post above this). And remember, Balthasar and Ratzinger thought alike in many ways - certainly about the value of Patristics and Tradition (along with Scriptures), to begin with, in any theological exercise.
Here is the link, and I hope it keeps valid until I am able to post the monograph in maybe 3-4 sections.
| 1/1/2007 8:44 PM
Registered in: 5/17/2006
for the Balthasar monograph which I have saved immediately on my PC for a print-out and leisurely "scrutiny" later.
Von Balthasar is seen by many as the greatest 20th century Catholic theologian and I could not really understand how the female theologian could question his fidelty to Church dogma. However, the First Things articles gave much food for thought. Perhaps I can just mention here that Balthasar's view on Christ's descent into Hell is shared by many (most?) first class Protestant theologians and is something that has been explained to church members during homilies. I have always thought that this view had been traditionally held by the Church before the reformation and was carried over into reformed theology and dogma.
Most interesting "reads" that you post here, Teresa. Thank you!
| 1/1/2007 11:33 PM
Dear Crotchet - I am afraid I never really thought about what Jesus did exactly when he 'descended into Hell' and which Hell it was, until I came across a ood Saturday homily earlier this year that I believe I posted in REFLECTIONS ON OUR FAITH...But then Ms. Pitwick's thesis caught my eye in First Things ebcause you don't lightly call Hans Urs von Balthasar a heretic!
It sufficed me Fr. Oakes's brief quotation from Ratzi to see how, as usual, he makes it all so clear and simple...And going back to read Pitwick after going through Oakes, I did get the impression - since she appears to have been very selective with her references to support her arguments - that she is one of those persons who choose a dissertation topic with the aim in mind of questioning a giant in the field, and - who knows? -bringing him down, or cutting him down to size, at any rate. A desire to be a genuine iconoclast, in short, which I find, most of the time, is associated with not a small degree of egoism.
Of course, it is legitimate to question even the best known expert in any field, but one would think, with more in one's arsenal than she appears to have. And if we take Oates's word for it, then she makes even more questionable statements in the full dissertation itself than she does in this necessarily brief article.
My question is, how did she get past her examination panel? To the point where she obviously not only got her degree but is now publishing the dissertation as a book.
For a change, it might be thought-provoking to find someone challenging Ratzi's theology in a competent way - just to find out if one can really determine how many angels can dance on a pinhead, ha-ha!(Usually, that's what much of the quibbling comes to...)
[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 16/05/2007 3.33]
| 1/2/2007 11:02 AM
Registered in: 5/17/2006
Angels dancing on a pin head
yes, you're right. And one finds this especially in the academic world...
Regarding someone challenging Ratzi's theology in a competent way (your last paragraph above), I wonder if it will happen now that he's Pope (hahaha). The only "negative" assessment of Ratzinger's theology that I've come across by pure chance was the criticism that he places too much stress on "natural theology", whatever that means. I think
it probably refers to his view that mankind's earlier religions can be seen as "advent" religions on their way to Christ, that man has an inborn faculty that allows him to search for God, etc. This sounds logical to me but some may argue that this "natural" view negates the utter helplessness and sinfulness of "fallen" mankind. I read this criticism on a catholic website (don't ask me which one) that seemed more like a Ratzinger-hate site than anything else.
| 1/5/2007 3:14 AM
| CROTCHET...As you have a far more active interest, academic and otherwise, in theology, I am sure you will find out ahead of me if anyone out there has written a plausible critique of Ratzi's theology, so you will let us know, please...
'PERSONHOOD' BEGINS AT CONCEPTION - Part 1
Meanwhile, on a topic that belongs to FAITH AND SCIENCE, except that it is I quite lengthy, I thank Curt Jester for referring me to a 1997 article by a Catholic philosopher on when 'personhood' begins and why which is on the site of the Catholic Education Resource Center
Peter Kreeft has written extensively (over 25 books) in the areas of Christian apologetics. In 1997, when he wrote this, he was teaching at Boston College in and was on the Advisory Board of the Catholic Educator's Resource Center.
Human Personhood Begins at Conception
Philosopher Peter Kreeft presents the arguments commonly used to explain why the unborn child is not a human person and then shows clearly and simply why each of these arguments cannot possibly be true.
Non-Christians and even Christians can take opposite positions on abortion even when they think rationally, honestly, and with good will. The continuing controversy over abortion shows that it is a truly controversial issue. It is not simple and clear-cut, but complex. Just as the choices for action are often difficult for a woman contemplating abortion, the choices for thought are often difficult for open-minded philosophers.
Everything I have said so far is a lie, in fact a dangerous lie.
There is one and only one reason why people argue about the topic of this paper, whether human personhood begins at conception: because some people want to justify abortion. Therefore I begin with some remarks about abortion.
Abortion is a clear-cut evil. Anyone who honestly seeks “peace on earth, good will toward men” will see this if only he extends it to include women and children. Especially Christians should see this very clearly, for their faith reinforces their natural reason and conscience, a faith that declares that every human being is sacred because he or she is made in the image of God.
The fact that some people controvert a position does not in itself make that position intrinsically controversial. People argued for both sides about slavery, racism and genocide too, but that did not make them complex and difficult issues. Moral issues are always terribly complex, said Chesterton — for someone without principles
I think I have already offended every reader who is not clearly pro-life, and before I begin to argue my case I would like briefly to examine that offense. Though I shall appeal only to reason in the body of my paper, I want to appeal first to an attitude of will because it is to the argument like a frame to a picture.
Our will often moves our reason, for good or for ill. “For ill” refers to rationalization, but how can will move reason for good? By the initial attitude of honesty, which is a fanatical and uncompromising love of truth, objective truth
Objectivity does not mean abandoning or weakening our convictions. An honest conviction is one arrived at after an open-minded search for truth; a prejudice is one arrived at before. Honesty leads to conviction, not away from it
I think we will have little hope of attaining this goal of honesty unless we first realize its difficulty and the sacrifices of self-will it demands. The most prejudiced people in the world are those who think they are unprejudiced. In my own thought life, I find this total honesty to be very demanding, very rare, and absolutely necessary.
Please turn to yourself for one moment and ask yourself this one question: Am I reading this paper because I want to be the servant of truth or because I want truth to be my servant? Do I want to win an argument or win a truth? Am I willing, even eager, to admit I was wrong if reason proves me wrong?
If Freud is right, we have no hope of being honest, for all our reasoning is rationalization. If that were true, it would be self-eliminating, for that belief too would be only rationalization. If we believe that objective truth does not exist or cannot be known, we shall cease to fight for it with words and begin to fight for domination over each other, replacing reason and justice and morality with powe
r — as is done in abortion clinics to unborn children.
It is not easy to argue about abortion objectively. Our choice of words is already prejudicial — as mine was just now, but no more so than calling the killing of a fetus “the termination of a pregnancy.” I wonder when they will start calling it “the final solution to the pregnancy problem”?
Our passions run hot about abortion. I have repeatedly been told that I am naive to argue against abortion philosophically, not realizing that abortion is not so much about fetuses as about sex; that those who demand to live “the sexual revolution” (i.e., promiscuously) must have abortion as a backup, a trump card, when other means of birth control fail. I have been told this by both sides often enough that I begin to believe it. After all, if we obeyed the commandment against adultery, 90% of all our abortions would cease.
The issue I have been asked to argue, the personhood of the fetus, is triply crucial. It is crucial for abortion, abortion is crucial for medical ethics, and medical ethics is crucial for the future of our civilization.
First, the personhood of the fetus is clearly the crucial issue for abortion, for if the fetus is not a person, abortion is not the deliberate killing of an innocent person: if it is, it is
All other aspects of the abortion controversy are relative to this one; e.g., women have rights — over their own bodies but not over other persons’ bodies. The law must respect a “right to privacy” but killing other persons is not a private but a public deed. Persons have a “right to life” but non-persons (e.g., cells, tissues, organs, and animals) do not.
Second, abortion is a crucial issue for medical ethics because the right to life is the fundamental right. If I am not living I can have no other rights
. Corpses have no rights. The two sides on this issue are more intransigently opposed to each other than on any other issue — rightly so, for if pro-lifers are right, then abortion is murder, and if pro-choicers are right, then pro-lifers are fanatic, intolerant and repressive about nothing. We must intolerantly kill both intolerance and killing.
Third, medical ethics is crucial for our civilization, for our lives are more closely touched here than by any economic, political, or military issue. For instance, artificial immortality would change mankind more radically than a nuclear war, and surrogate motherhood, which brings us to Brave New World, is a more radical development than totalitarian dictatorship, which brings us only to 1984.
Abortion is also crucial because it involves at least six other crucial background issues:
Are there objective values that must be known and obeyed, or do we create our own values like the rules of a game?
If there are objective values, are any of them absolute or are all relative to changing situations, motives, needs, or desires?
Is human life such an absolute, or “sacred,” or does the “quality of life” or level of ability to perform certain human acts define the value of a person?
Can human reason discern the truth about moral values or not? (Curiously, Christian fideists here line up with anti-Christian skeptics and secularists against mainline Christian orthodoxy.)
What is a human person? Are we made in the image of King Kong or King God or both?
Why is a human person? What is the purpose, goal, or “final cause” of human life? This question is necessarily involved because the end determines the means.
Finally, abortion is defended most stoutly by the new ideology of radical feminism, which is more fundamentally critical of traditional values than any merely political ideology even in our century. It raises such radically new questions as whether the idea of the sanctity of unborn human life is part of a dark patriarchal plot to suppress and control women as reproductive slaves.
All these issues are involved in abortion, but I shall argue only one: Is the fetus a person? The case for pro-life’s affirmative answer is well-known, and so are the biological facts which constitute its simplest and strongest evidence, especially the genetic identity and individuality of the unborn child from the moment of conception. How does the pro-choice position argue against this case?
To understand the controversy, we must understand the general structure of moral reasoning. A moral conclusion about the goodness or evil of a human act is deduced from two premises: a major premise, which states a general moral principle (e.g., “we ought to pay our debts”) and a minor premise, which sees a particular situation as coming under that principle (e.g., “international debts are debts”).
Thus the essential pro-life argument is as follows. The major premise is: “Thou shalt not kill” — i.e., all deliberate killing of innocent human beings is forbidden. The minor premise is that abortion is the deliberate killing of innocent human beings. The conclusion is that abortion is wrong.
There are two significantly different pro-choice answers to this argument. The more radical, or “hard,” pro-choice position denies the major premise; the less radical, or “soft,” pro-choice position denies the minor. “Hard pro-choice” denies the sanctity or inviolability of all humans; “soft pro-choice” denies the humanity of the fetus.
I think no one in the Christian Medical and Dental Society will take the hard pro-choice position, for Christianity clearly teaches (1) that all of us are made in the image of God and (2) that God Himself has forbidden us to kill, i.e., to murder innocent persons. I confine myself, therefore, to refuting the soft pro-choice position.
Is the fetus a person? Obviously it is biologically human, genetically human, a distinct member of the species homo sapiens. So the soft pro-choicer must distinguish between human beings and persons, must say that fetuses are human but not persons, and say that all persons, but not all humans, are sacred and inviolable.
Thus the crucial issue is: Are there any human beings who are not persons? If so, killing them might be permissible, like killing warts. But who might these human non-persons be? Jews? Blacks? Slaves? Infidels? Counterrevolutionaries? Others have said so, and justified their genocide, lynching, slavery, jihad, or gulag. But pro-choicers never include these groups as non-persons.
Many pro-choicers include severely retarded or handicapped humans, or very old and sick humans, as non-persons, but this is still morally shocking to most people, and many pro-choicers avoid that morally shocking position by including only fetuses as members of this newly invented class of human non-persons, or non-personal humans
I think no one ever conceived of this category before the abortion controversy. It looks very suspiciously like the category was invented to justify the killing, for its only members are the humans we happen to be now killing and want to keep killing and want to justify killing. But the only way we can prove this dark suspicion true is to refute the category. Are there any humans who are not persons?
Soft pro-choicers give reasons for thinking there are. Their position can be fairly summarized, I think, in seven arguments. Each attacks a basic pro-life syllogism by accusing it in different ways of using an ambiguous middle term, “human being.” They say a fetus is a human life but not a human person
First, there is the linguistic fact that we can and often do make a triple distinction among a human life, a human being and a human person. Each cell in our bodies has human life, and a single cell kept alive in a laboratory could be called “a human life” but certainly not “a human being” or “a human person.”
“A human being” is a biologically whole individual of the species. Even a human being born with no brain is a human being, not an ape; but it is not a person because it has no brain and cannot do anything distinctively human: think, know, choose, love, feel, desire, commit, relate, aspire, know itself, know God, know its past, know its future, know its environment, or communicate — all of which have, in various combinations, been offered as the marks of a person. The pro-life position seems to confuse the sanctity of the person with the sanctity of life, which is two steps removed from it.
Thus pro-life seems to be based on a linguistic confusion. Not all human life is sacred. Not even all human beings, individual members of the human species, are sacred
.[????] But all human persons are sacred.
Second, pro-lifers seem to commit the intellectual sin of biologism, idolatry of biology, by defining persons in a merely biological, genetic, material way. Membership in a biological species is not morally relevant, not what makes persons sacred and murder wrong. Membership in the human species is no more morally relevant than membership in the subspecies, or race. If racism is wrong, so is speciesism.
Third, the very young product of conception, the zygote, has no ability to perform any of the distinctive activities that anyone associates with personhood (reasoning, choosing, loving, communicating, etc.) — not even feeling pain, for the zygote has no brain or nervous system. At first it is only a single cell. How could anyone call a single cell a person?
Fourth, it seems to be an obvious mistake for the pro-lifer to claim that personhood begins abruptly, at conception, for personhood develops gradually, as a matter of degree. Every one of the characteristics we use to identify personhood arises and grows gradually rather than suddenly. Pro-lifers seem to be victims of simplistic, black-or-white thinking, but reality is full of greys.
Fifth, pro-lifers seem to confuse potential persons with actual persons. The fetus is potentially a person, but it must grow into an actual person.
Sixth, personhood is not a clear concept. There is not universal agreement on it. Different philosophers, scientists, religionists, moralists, mothers, and observers define it differently. It is a matter of opinion where the dividing line between persons and non-persons should be located. But what is a matter of opinion should not be decided or enforced by law.
Law should express social consensus, and there is no consensus in our society about personhood’s beginning or, consequently, about abortion. One opinion should not be forced on all. Pro-choice is not pro-abortion but, precisely, pro-choice.
Seventh, a fetus cannot be a person because it is part of another person, the mother. Persons are wholes, not parts. Persons are not parts of other persons, but the fetus is part of another person; therefore, the fetus is not a person.
There is a common premise hidden behind all seven of these pro-choice arguments. It is the premise of Functionalism: defining a person by his or her functioning or behavior
A “behavioral definition” is proper and practical for scientific purposes of prediction and experimentation, but it is not adequate for ordinary reason and common sense, much less for good philosophy or morality, which should be based on common sense.
Why? Because common sense distinguishes between what one is and what one does, between being and fun functioning, thus between “being a person” and “functioning as a person.” One cannot function as a person without being a person, but one can surely be a person without functioning as a person. In deep sleep, in coma, and in early infancy, nearly everyone will admit there are persons, but there are no specifically human functions such as reasoning, choice, or language.
Functioning as a person is a sign and an effect of being a person. It is because of what we are, because of our nature or essence or being, that we can and do function in these ways. We have human souls, and plants do not; that’s why we can know ourselves and plants can’t. Functionalism makes the elementary mistake of confusing the sign with the thing signified, the smoke with the fire. As a Zen master would say, “The finger is fine for pointing at the moon, but woe to him who mistakes the finger for the moon.”
The Functionalist or Behaviorist would reply that he is skeptical of such talk about natures, essences, or natural species (as distinct from conventional, man-made class-groupings). But the Functionalist cannot use ordinary language without contradicting himself. He says, e.g., that there is no such thing as “river” because all rivers are different. But how then can he call them all “rivers”? The very word “all” should be stricken from his speech. His Nominalism makes nonsense of ordinary language.
The Functionalist claims he is being simple and commonsensical by not speaking of essences. He says that traditional talk about essences is dated, dispensable, mystical, muddled, and anti-scientific. But he is wrong.
Talk about essences is not dated but perennial, built into the very structure of language, for most words are universals predictable of many individuals. Essence-talk is not dispensable without dispensing with understanding itself and reducing us to an animal state of mind where brute empirical fact reigns alone.
Essence-talk is not mystical but commonsensical. It is not muddled but clear to any child. It is not anti-scientific, for science seeks universal laws, truths about the species, not quirks of the specimen.
Functionalism is not only theoretically weak, it is also practically destructive. Modern man is increasingly reducing his being to functions. We no longer ask “Who is he?” but “What does he do?” We think of a man as a fireman, not as a man fighting fires; of a woman as a teacher, not as a woman teaching.
Functionalism arises with the modern erosion of the family. Our civilization is dying primarily because the family is dying. Half of our families commit suicide, for divorce is the family committing suicide qua family. But the family is the place where you learn that you are loved not because of what you do, your function, but because of who you are. What is replacing the family, where we are valued for our being? The workplace, where we are valued for our functioning
This replacement in society is mirrored by the replacement in philosophy of the old “Sanctity of Life Ethic” by the new “Quality of Life Ethic.”
In this new ethic, a human life is judged as valuable and worth living if and and only if the judgers decide that it performs at a certain level — e.g., a functional I.Q. of 60 or 40; or an ability to relate to other people (it would logically follow that a severely autistic person does not have enough “quality” in his life to deserve to live); or the prospect of a fairly normal, healthy and pain-free life (thus active euthanasia, or assisted suicide, is justified). If someone lacks the functional criteria of a “quality” life, he lacks personhood and the right to life.
I find this ethic more terrifying than the ethic of the Mafia, for the Mafia at least do not rationalize their assassinations by inventing a new ethic which pretends that the people they want to kill are not people. I would feel more comfortable conversing with a hired killer than with an abortionist, for an abortionist is also a hired killer, but pretends not to be
To see this point, let us dare to ask a very naive and simple question, a question a child might ask, especially a child like the one in “The Emperor’s New Clothes”: Why do doctors kill fetuses rather than fetuses killing doctors? Fetuses do not want to die. They struggle to live. (I hope you have all seen “The Silent Scream” and its sequel.) The answer is power. Doctors have power, fetuses do not. If fetuses came equipped with suction tubes, poisons, and scalpels to use to defend themselves against their killers, there would be no abortions.
Part 2 follows.
| 1/5/2007 3:16 AM
'PERSONHOOD' BEGINS AT CONCEPTION - Part 2
Continuing the article by
In George Bernard Shaw’s utopia of the future, each citizen would have to appear annually before a Central Planning Committee to justify the social utility of his or her (or its) existence, or else be painlessly “terminated.” That is the crotch of the Functionalist camel whose nose is already under our tent. The nose is abortion. The camel is all one piece. Let the nose in and the rest will follow. To keep the camel out you must hit it on the nose.
Returning to our logical analysis, let us now refute the seven pro-choice arguments. First, the pro-choicers are correct to claim that the “person” and “human being” are not identical, but wrong to claim that the “human being” is the broader category and “person” the narrower subset.
It is the other way round. There are persons who are not human persons: the three Persons of the Trinity, angels, and any rational and moral extraterrestrials who may exist, such as the E.T., Martians, and someone who has never heard of the Boston Red Sox. But though not all persons are human, all humans are persons
. Old humans are persons, very young humans are persons, and unborn humans, fetal humans, are persons too.
How is a person to be defined? The crucial point for our argument is not which acts are to count as defining a person (is it speaking, or reasoning, or loving?) but the relation of these personal acts to the person-actor.
Is a person one who is consciously performing personal acts? If so, people who are asleep are not people, and we may kill them. Is it one with a present capacity to perform personal acts? That would include sleepers, but not people in coma. How about one with a history of performing personal acts? That would mean that a 17-year-old who was born in a coma 17 years ago and is just now coming out of it is not a person. Also, by this definition there can be no first personal act, no personal acts without a history of past personal acts. What about one with a future capacity for performing personal acts? That would mean that dying persons are not persons. Surely the correct answer is that a person is one with a natural, inherent capacity for performing personal acts
Why is one able to perform personal acts, under proper conditions? Only because one is a person. One grows into the ability to perform personal acts only because one already is the kind of thing that grows into the ability to perform personal acts, i.e., a person.
The first argument — that some human beings are not persons — is to say that only achievers, only successful functioners, only sufficiently intelligent performers, qualify as persons and have a right to life.
And who is to say what “sufficient” is? The line can be drawn at will-the will of the stronger. Nature, reason, and justice are then replaced by artifice, prejudice, and power. When it is in the self-interest of certain people to kill certain other people, whether fetuses, or the dying, or enemies of the state, or Jews, or Armenians, or Cambodians, or heretics, or prophets, the killers will simply define their victims as non-persons by pointing out that they do not meet certain criteria.
Who determines the criteria? Those in power, of course. Whenever personhood is defined functionally, the dividing line between persons and non-persons will be based on a decision by those in power, a decision of will. Such a decision, given the fallenness of human nature, will inevitably be based on self-interest. Where there is an interest in killing persons, they will be defined as non-persons
To the second argument, it must be said that “human being” is not a merely biological term because the reality it designates is not a merely biological reality, though it is a biological reality. To identify human beings and persons is not biologism; in fact, it is just the opposite: it is the implicit claim that persons, i.e., human beings, have a human biological body and a human spiritual soul; that human souls inhabit human bodies
The reason we should love, respect, and not kill human beings is because they are persons, i.e., subjects, souls, “I’s,” made in the image of God Who is I AM. We revere the person, not the functioning; the doer, not the doing.
If robots could do all that persons can do behaviorally, they would still not be persons. Mere machines cannot be persons. They may function as persons, but they do not understand that they do not have freedom, or free will to choose what they do. They obey their programming without free choice. They are artifacts, and artifacts are not persons.
Persons are natural, not artificial. They develop from within (like fetuses!); artifacts are made from without.
The connection between the two errors of (1) reducing persons to functions and (2) reducing “human being” to a merely biological category is obvious: the first is the root cause of the second. Once a person is defined in terms of functioning, then zygotes, fetuses and even normal newborns are no longer fully persons. What are they, then? Only members of a biological species, “human being.”
This justifies abortion, of course - and infanticide. The camel is a one-piece camel. I know of no argument justifying abortion that does not also justify infanticide.
To the third argument: the zygote has no brain, true, but it does have what will grow into a brain, just as an infant does not have speech but has what will grow into speech. Within the zygote is an already fully programmed individuality, from sex and aging to eye color and aversion to spinach. The personhood of the person is already there, like the tuliphood of the tulip bulb
. One must actually be a human being, after all, to grow a human brain.
The fourth argument is right, of course, to say that development is gradual - after conception. Conception is the break, the clear dividing line, and the only one. I am the same being from conception on. Otherwise we would not speak of the growth and development and unfolding of that being, of me
. I was once an infant. I was born. I was once in my mother’s womb. My functioning develops only gradually, but my me has a sudden beginning. Once again, the pro-choice objection confuses being a person with functioning as a person.
Furthermore, if personhood is only a developing, gradual thing, then we are never fully persons, because we continue to grow, at least intellectually and emotionally and spiritually. Albert Schweitzer said, at 70, “I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.” But if we are only partial persons, then murder is only partially wrong, and it is less wrong to kill younger, lesser persons than older ones. If it is more permissible to kill a fetus than to kill an infant because the fetus is less of a person, then it is for exactly the same reason more permissible to kill a seven-year-old, who has not yet developed his reproductive system or many of his educational and communications skills, than to kill a 27-year-old. The absurd conclusion follows from defining a person functionally
No other line than conception can be drawn between pre-personhood and personhood. Birth and viability are the two most frequently suggested. But birth is only a change of place and relationship to the mother and to the surrounding world (air and food); how could these things create personhood? As for viability, it varies with accidental and external factors like available technology (incubators). What I am in the womb - a person or a non-person - cannot be determined by what machines exist outside the womb! But viability is determined by such things. Therefore personhood cannot be determined by viability.
Fifth, if the fetus is only a potential person, it must be an actual something in order to be a potential person. What is it? An ape?
There are no “potential persons” any more than there are potential apes. All persons are actual, as all apes are actual. Actual apes are potential swimmers, and actual persons are potential philosophers. The being is actual, the functioning is potential
. The objection confuses “a potential person” with “a potentially functioning person”- Functionalism again!
Sixth, is personhood an unclear concept? If it were a matter of degree, determined by degree of functioning, then it would indeed be unclear, and a matter of opinion, who is a person and who is not. Refuting objection four undercuts objection six.
Personhood is indeed unclear - for Functionalism. Such questions as the following are not clearly answerable: Which features count as proof of personhood? Why? How do we decide? Who decides? What gives them that right? And how much of each feature is necessary for personhood? And who decides that, and why?
Also, all the performance-qualifications adduced for personhood are difficult to measure objectively and with certainty. To use the unclear, not universally accepted, hard-to-measure functionalist concept of personhood to decide the sharply controversial issue of who is a person and who may be killed is to try to clarify the obscure by the more obscure, obscuram per obscurius.
Seventh, if the fetus is only a part of the mother, a hilariously absurd consequence follows. The relation of part to whole is what logicians call a transitive relation: If A is part of B and B is part of C, then A must be part of C. If a wall is part of a room and the room is part of a building, then the wall must be part of that building. If a toe is part of a foot and a foot is part of a body, then the toe is part of the body. Now if the fetus is a part of the mother, then the parts of the fetus must be parts of the mother. But in that case, every pregnant woman has four eyes and four feet, and half of all pregnant women have penises! Clearly, the absurd conclusion came from the false premise that the fetus is only part of the mother.
I have refuted the pro-choice position (1) in general, by the basic pro-life syllogism, (2) foundationally, by identifying and refuting Functionalism as the root pro-choice error, and (3) specifically, by refuting each of the seven pro-choice arguments against fetal personhood.
But just suppose all of my arguments are somehow inconclusive. Suppose I was wrong in my very first point, that abortion is a clear evil. Suppose abortion is a difficult, obscure, uncertain issue. Even if you take this “softest pro-choice” position, which we can call “abortion agnosticism,” you stand refuted by the following quadrilemma.
Either the fetus is a person, or not; and either we know what it is, or not. Thus there are four and only four possibilities:
that it is not a person and we know that; that it is a person and we know that; that it is a person but we do not know that; and that it is not a person and we do not know that.
Now what is abortion in each of these four cases?
In case (1), abortion is perfectly permissible. We do no wrong if we kill what is not a person and we know it is not a person-e.g., if we fry a fish. But no one has ever proved with certainty that a fetus is not a person. If there exists anywhere such a proof, please show it to me and I shall convert to pro-choice on the spot if I cannot refute it.
If we do not have case (1) we have either (2) or (3) or (4). What is abortion in each of these cases? It is either murder, or manslaughter, or criminal negligence.
In case (2), where the fetus is a person and we know that, abortion is murder. For killing an innocent person knowing it is an innocent person is murder.
In case (3), abortion is manslaughter, for it is killing an innocent person not knowing and intending the full, deliberate extent of murder. It is like driving over a man-shaped overcoat in the street, which may be a drunk or may only be an old coat. It is like shooting at a sudden movement in a bush which may be your hunting companion or may be only a pheasant. It is like fumigating an apartment building with a highly toxic chemical not knowing whether everyone is safely evacuated. If the victim is a person, you have committed manslaughter. And if not?
Even in case (4), even if abortion kills what is not in fact a person, but the killer does not know for sure that it is not a person, we have criminal negligence, as in the above three cases if there happened to be no one in the coat, the bush, or the building, but the driver, the hunter, or the fumigator did not know that, and nevertheless drove, shot or fumigated. Such negligence is instinctively and universally condemned by all reasonable individuals and societies as personally immoral and socially criminal; and cases (2) and (3), murder and manslaughter, are of course condemned even more strongly.
We do not argue politely over whether such behavior is right or wrong. We wholeheartedly condemn it, even when we do not know whether there is a person there, because the killer did not know that a person was not there. Why do we not do the same with abortion?
The answer to that question is not an easy one to admit. It is this: If we do not see the awfulness of abortion, that is not because the facts and arguments are unclear but because our own consciences are unclear
Mother Teresa says, “Abortion kills twice. It kills the body of the baby and it kills the conscience of the mother.” Abortion is profoundly anti-women. Three quarters of its victims are women: half the babies and all the mothers.
If Mother Teresa is right, the second killing that abortion does is even worse than the first, if souls are more important than bodies. If abortion kills consciences, it kills souls. To the extent that conscience is killed, repentance is killed, and without repentance and faith we simply cannot be saved — unless Jesus was a liar or a fool when he told us that.
This is not to condemn the personal motives or integrity of all who abort. We must distinguish the sin from the sinner and hate and judge the sin but not the sinner. Both aborters and justifiers of abortion may be victims as much as victimizers: victims of propaganda, prejudice and passion.
Before they victimize their babies’ bodies, their own souls are victimized — their thoughts, their consciences. But the victimization must start somewhere, the buck stops somewhere, and not in safe abstractions like “society” but in the choices of individuals.
All of us are implicated in some way, for “the only thing that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that the good do nothing.” What should we do? For one thing, we must put up one hell of a stink, for abortion is, precisely, one hell of a stink.
There is a time to be polite and scholarly and a time to tell the truth plain and prickly. Plainly put, abortion comes from Hell and it can lead us to Hell if not repented. Any unrepented sin can, and we all need repentance, whether we abort or hate or lust or despair or coldly condemn.
But abortion is more likely than most sins to be unrepented because there are so many pro-choice voices justifying it. The justification of abortion can be more lethal than abortion itself.
Kreeft, Peter. “Human Personhood Begins at Conception.” Medical Ethics Policy Monograph Stafford, Virginia: Castello Institute.
Printed by permission of the author.
Originally published by Castello Institute as a Medical Ethics Policy Monograph, Castello Institute of Stafford, 2721 Jefferson Davis Highway, Stafford, Virginia 22554.
Copyright © 1997 Peter Kreeft